Even kids who have “healthy” diets are experiencing tooth decay before they enter kindergarten, according to a new study.
Dentists in England, where dental care is free for kids under 18, are seeing thousands of very young children each year with decayed baby teeth (also known as “primary teeth”) that need to be removed.
Figures show there were 9,206 extractions carried out on children aged four and younger between April 2015 and March 2016. A decade ago, it was closer to 7,400 extractions, an increase of about 24% in the space of a decade – more than you would expect from population growth alone, according to the study.
In America, almost one in every four American children have untreated cavities in their teeth. Children reporting recent toothaches were 4 times more likely to have a lower grade-point average than their peers. Sadly “a substantial number” of US children recently had a toothache.
The Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, which compiled the data, blames tooth decay in young kids to sugary diets – including over-consumption of fruit.
Baby teeth are more susceptible to decay than adult teeth because primary teeth have thinner and often less resilient enamel that doesn’t provide as much protection from bacteria.
Prof Nigel Hunt, lead researcher on the study, told the BBC: “What is really distressing about these figures is that 90% of tooth decay is preventable through reducing sugar consumption, regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste and routine dental visits.”
Sugar Feeds Bacteria
Sugar and acid are the primary enemies of healthy teeth. Sugar is used as fuel by the acid-producing bacteria that live in our mouths. These bacteria love carbohydrates.
Carb-fueled bacteria multiply super-fast, creating an acidic environment in your mouth that weakens teeth and fosters the growth of bacterial plaque. Over time, without proper oral hygiene and dental care, the plaque clinging to teeth works its way under the gums, resulting in oral infections and tooth decay. Bacterial plaque is the primary cause of 90% of all dental disease.
Battle destructive bacteria by choosing treats carefully. Obviously, surgery snacks like candy and soda are bad choices for healthy smiles. And while a glass of fruit juice may seem to be healthy, it’s probably also packed with sugar and acid. The acid softens your child’s tooth enamel, while the sugar feeds bad bacteria – double whammy. Stick to veggie juices or, even better, water.
Even snacking on fruit, which would seem to be a healthy choice, isn’t the best choice for teeth. Including fruits during meal times is the best way to get your kids the benefits of fresh fruit without exposing them to an overload of sugar. During meals, saliva product is increased, which helps wash away sugar.
That said, naturally occurring sugar, like the kind present in fruit, is certainly a better choice than sugar added to processed foods. Also consider giving your kids cheese and raw vegetables for their between-meal snacks.
Keeping Kids Smiling
Some parents may not understand the importance of dental care and careful hygiene for baby teeth. Primary teeth are only present in a kid’s mouth for 8 years or less, since children tend to have their full set of baby teeth by age three and then typically start to lose those teeth between the ages of 5-7. Between ages 6-12, they will have a mix of permanent and primary teeth. Most kids will have a complete set of permanent teeth, not counting wisdom teeth, by age 12.
But baby teeth set the stage for dental health later in life. Loosing primary teeth before they naturally fall out may lead to badly aligned permanent teeth, which can only be corrected with years of treatment by braces.
Along with limiting sugary treats and drinks, good oral hygiene at home and regular preventive care is key to keeping young teeth decay-free. Review our at-home tips for taking care of kids teeth. And if you’ve been postponing visits to the dentist due to cost, consider dental savings plans to save 10%-60% on dental care for the whole family.