What's more, ECC is affecting more kids. In the 1990s, the most common specialized day surgery procedure in British Columbia was dental treatment on children. In 2000, the Canadian Dental Association expressed concern over increasing numbers of children being treated in hospitals for rampant caries (tooth decay). The same year, the U.S. Surgeon General called tooth decay 'the single most common chronic childhood disease – five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.'
If plaque and residue are not cleaned from your baby's teeth after each feeding, the risk of decay is very high. Exposure to any form of sugar (including sugar in milk) while asleep is also a high risk. When both happen at the same time – plaque is left on the teeth and teeth exposed to sugar all day long or when the child is asleep – the risk of tooth decay is extremely high.
ECC was once known as baby bottle tooth decay, as it is linked to giving children a bottle or sweetened soother at bedtime. ECC is as serious as any other childhood infectious disease. It can start shortly after the first baby teeth start to appear. Sometimes white spots or lines, or yellow brownish areas, are seen on the inside or outside of the top front teeth. Later on, the disease can spread to the bottom and back teeth.
Often, parents are told or think:
All of these statements are wrong. A child needs baby teeth to chew food and have a healthy smile.
You may be surprised to learn that you can begin caring for your child's teeth soon after birth. After each feeding or nursing, wipe the gums with a damp cloth to remove any residue. As teeth appear, continue to wipe or brush off plaque after each feeding.
If your child needs a bottle to fall asleep, be sure to give only plain water.
Both the Canadian and American Dental Associations recommend booking a dental visit before your child's first birthday. Even the professionals are confused about this point – a 2008 magazine survey reported that 65 per cent of dental offices advised that no appointment was needed until the third or fourth birthday.
If you see anything in your child's mouth that you are concerned about, see a professional who treats children. If your dentist does not provide care for young children, ask for a referral to a child dental specialist (pediatric dentist). Children are never too young to have their teeth checked!
While prevention is best, early detection and treatment of decay is very important.
Once tooth decay begins, it needs to be treated immediately. If it progresses to the point where your child has pain or dental abscesses, dental work will likely need to be done with a general anesthetic. This puts your child at some risk and can be costly.
Remember, disease and infection in your child's mouth affects the entire body. ECC is the only infectious disease that can be eliminated with virtually no cost to families or the health care system. Prevention is the best treatment!
Unchecked, ECC can move from tooth to tooth, tooth to gums and jaw and from primary to secondary teeth. Evidence shows that the infectious process of tooth decay does not remain in the mouth.
The medical necessity of caring for baby teeth takes on more urgency when you look at the quality of life for children with severe cavities. Any adult who has had a throbbing toothache knows firsthand how hard it is to think, work, sleep or play until that tooth is fixed or removed. Blood tests on a group of two to six-year-olds with severe cavities show low levels of protein stores and iron. If it hurts to eat (especially crunchy, nutrient-dense food), children are not able to get the nutrients they need to grow and remain healthy.
Decaying baby teeth can even become a source of toxic stress. Particularly during childhood, living with continual pain can affect the architecture of the brain, tampering with the ability to learn, remember and regulate emotions. Affected children under the age of four are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, diabetes, substance abuse habits, depression, anxiety disorders and obesity. Certain populations are particularly vulnerable. There is more early childhood dental decay among First Nations children than all cases of reportable diseases (rubella, measles, chicken pox, and pertussis) in a single year studied.
Related problems do not stop in adulthood. If the immune system is already overloaded, oral bacteria can enter the blood stream or lymphatic system and cause infection elsewhere in the body.
Study after study shows improved eating, sleeping and playing for most children following dental treatment for severe cavities. They also become more able to learn at school.
A financial reason also exists for protecting the health of baby teeth. Dental treatment requiring either sedation or general anesthesia can easily cost thousands of dollars. While insurance companies and the health care system may share the cost, it is high to pay considering that prevention – cleaning baby teeth daily – is free.
The Society for a Healthy Mouth Healthy Child (Alberta) and its sister entity in the U.S A. The Foundation for a Healthy Mouth Healthy Child were created with the single goal of eradicating Early Childhood Caries (ECC). For more information, visit: www.stopecc.com