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Early Childhood Caries Reaches Epidemic Proportions

CHICAGO, Illinois – The rate of caries in permanent teeth has been on the decline for years. Improvements in dental technology, increased access to fluoride, and parents becoming better informed on caring for children's teeth all help maintain the longevity of permanent teeth. However, decay in primary teeth (baby teeth), known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC), is currently at epidemic proportions in some U.S. populations. ECC puts too many children at risk for invasive and costly dental procedures too soon, as noted in a recently published article in the January/February issue of Pediatric Dentistry. In Early childhood caries: an overview and recent findings, Norman Tinanoff, DDS, MS, et al., noted the serious implications of ECC, particularly among racial and ethnic minorities. The caries level in 3- to 5-year-old U.S. Head Start children may be as high as 90 percent in some minority populations.

Unfortunately, too many parents underestimate the importance of baby teeth. Primary teeth hold the space in the jaw for the permanent teeth. Primary teeth are necessary for chewing, speaking and appearance to boost a child's self-esteem. Decay in primary teeth can damage the erupting permanent teeth, increases the risk of decay in permanent teeth, causes pain and unnecessary suffering, and can be associated with general health problems in some children.

Dr. Tinanoff, et al. noted behaviors occurring at crucial periods of primary tooth development as those most likely to cause decay. Inappropriate feeding practices, bacterial infection and inadequate amounts of fluoride can increase the likelihood that young children will experience decay in their primary teeth.

Early intervention may be the best way to avoid Early Childhood Caries. Children should be seen by a pediatric dentist when their first tooth appears or no later than their first birthday. Cleaning an infant's mouth is as important as bathing an infant. Before any teeth are present, the baby's gums should be cleaned with a washcloth or a toothbrush after feeding to clear bacteria from the mouth and accustom the child to a life-long habit of cleaning the mouth thoroughly.

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry

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