Early Childhood Caries: What Is It and How to Prevent It?

If only a Snickers bar or a Coke a day kept cavities away, America’s kids would be living in sweets heaven.

Alas, Snickers bars and good childhood oral health don’t work that way. Today more than ever, America’s children are at risk for developing serious oral health problems due to poor oral hygiene practices. And no one, not even newborns to toddlers, are safe from oral health dangers.

For too much sugar at any age spells big-time trouble for kids’ teeth.

And one of America’s most alarming threats to our children’s oral health is Early Childhood Caries (ECC), also known as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay. Children who are frequently exposed to sugary liquids such as milk, breast milk, formula, fruit juice and other sweet liquids for long periods of time run a significant risk of suffering from ECC.

And ECC can strike like quick lightning, developing as early as children’s baby teeth begin to emerge (around six months). ECC progresses rapidly and can cause great pain to children. The American Dental Association (ADA) calls ECC a “significant public health problem in selected populations” of the U.S.

What Is Early Childhood Caries?

So what exactly is ECC? This infectious disease is defined as the presence of one or more decayed teeth, missing teeth (resulting from caries) or filled tooth surfaces in any primary tooth in a child six years old or younger.

This is a multifactorial disease process ignited by bacteria. After good enters the body, the bacteria breaks down carbohydrates, producing acids that cause mineral loss in teeth. Alas, the process often results in cavities. ECC can require extensive dental repair (often in an operating room under general anesthesia) in children as young as 22 months.

Left unchecked, ECC can destroy children’s teeth, and have a strong, lasting negative effect on a child’s overall general health. As the Oral Health Group warns, “Left untreated, carious lesions can lead to expensive treatment, disruption of growth and development, pain, and life threatening infections.” The cost of restoring teeth afflicted with ECC can run upward of $1,000 per tooth.

And ECC is attacking America’s youth with a vengeance. The Oral Health Group reports 40 percent of children have dental caries by the age of 5. Centers for Disease Control statistics show 28 percent of American children ages 2 to 5 have cavities and 19 percent of children ages 5-19 have untreated dental caries. Making matters worse and making all 12 months of the year Christmas time for ECC: 17 percent of children ages 2-17 have not visited a dentist in the past year.

How can parents help their unsuspecting pride and joys avoid the painful dangers and pain of ECC? By getting ahead of the earliest striking oral health disease. The ADA recommends parents schedule their children’s first dental visit within six months of teeth erupting and no later than 12 months of age.

How to Prevent Early Childhood Caries:

  • Only give your child a bottle during meals. Do not allow your child to walk around with it or drink from it throughout the day.
  • Adopt a healthy balanced diet for your child and limit starchy, sugary snacks and sugary drinks.
  • Clean your baby’s gums with a soft toothbrush or cloth and water starting at birth. Once their first tooth erupts, use a soft toothbrush twice a day. Use a “smear” of toothpaste if your child is under two years of age and a “pea-size” amount if they are between two and five years of age. The use of fluoridated toothpaste is dictated by your child’s caries risk, as determined by the dental or medical provider.
  • Do not use dipping pacifiers in any sweetened liquid.
  • Teach your child to start drinking from a cup as early as possible, preferably before they turn one year of age. By drinking from a cup, the liquid is less likely to pool around the front teeth.

Most importantly, keep sugar from sugar-coating your child’s teeth. For as The American Academy of Pediatrics states, “Children who use a bottle after 15 months of age or have sweets or starchy snacks more than three times a day are at higher risk of getting ECC.”

Growing up fast in a strange new world is hard enough for babies. ECC is one serious dental toothache no child should have to weather.

Source: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/dental.htm

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