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'Dramatic rise' in children's dental surgery

April 13, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Brushing your teeth is a daily ritual, but many parents don't realize that even the tiniest teeth need a lot of TLC. Now dentists across the country are treating preschoolers with a mouthful of cavities. A growing number of children even require surgery.

Dr. Jonathan Shenkin with the American Dental Association says there's been a "dramatic rise" in the number of children requiring surgery for everything from fillings and crowns to root canals and extractions.

"These are children anywhere from the age of 1 or 2, up until they're 6 or 7," said Shenkin.

Dr. Joel Berg is with the University of Washington Center for Pediatric Dentistry. He says one of the main culprits is sugar in things like juice, sweetened water, soda, even milk and starches.

"It has a lot to do with the frequency of sugar," said Berg. "How often do you have sugar during the day? Every time you eat sugar, acid is formed that starts to dissolve the enamel."

The American Dental Association recommends scheduling a child's first visit by age 1. When teeth first erupt, clean them with a damp cloth. At one year, use a toothbrush with water, or fluoride-free training toothpaste.

"Most parents are unaware that they're supposed to start using a fluoride toothpaste no later than two years of age, and that delay in using fluoride toothpaste puts kids at greater risk of developing significant decay early on," said Shenkin.

Finally, encourage healthy eating, and brush your pre-schooler's teeth twice a day.

It's also important to avoid having children share pacifiers or utensils. Research has shown the bacteria that causes tooth decay can be transferred via saliva.

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