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A disturbing trend: More cavities in children

In a disturbing trend, it is becoming more common for children to be treated under general anesthesia for major dental work. No parent wants to see their child go through this, and by making some changes to diet and hygiene habits, you can steer clear of the operating room.

Preschooler eating healthy food

While an occasional cavity may be part of life, root canals and crowns in children shouldn’t be. But according to, it is becoming more and more usual to see these kinds of procedures being performed on toddlers. Since it is difficult for a child to sit still while having multiple fillings or worse, it often comes down to general anesthesia, surgery and costly bills. In fact, a 2-1/2 year old at Seattle Children’s Hospital recently went under anesthesia for X-rays where it was discovered that 11 out of 20 teeth had cavities, which meant two extractions, a root canal, fillings and crowns.

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Bad habits can cause tooth decay

Bad brushing habits, eating the wrong kinds of food and drinking sugary beverages can all contribute to cavities and further tooth decay. Children that go to bed drinking juice, soda or other flavored drinks are sleeping all night with a mouth full of sugar. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar and turns into acid that destroys the tooth enamel. Limiting sugary juices to less than four ounces per day and brushing well before bed are good rules of thumb to prevent cavities.

Foods are another culprit in causing decay and cavities. Sticky, sugary candies and snacks don’t melt away and instead stay on the surface of the teeth. Too many citrus or high-acid foods can also be detrimental to tooth enamel but can be consumed in moderation. If your child is going to eat candy, choose something that will melt away fast like chocolate (in small amounts, of course).

What foods can help?

In terms of promoting better dental health, there are many choices when reaching for a snack for your child. Not only are fruits and vegetables high in nutrients and vitamins, but the crunch of apples, carrots and celery help in cleaning off the surface of teeth. Foods containing dairy, like milk and cheese, neutralize the acid in the mouth. Choosing tap water (if fluoridated) over bottled water is helpful in preventing cavities. (Check with your city to see if your water is fluoridated.)

Alternatively, a naturally occurring sugar substitute called xylitol offers an option in place of other sweet treats. Xylitol lollipops and gums are available, and baking with xylitol in place of sugar is also recommended.

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Brush twice a day, at least!

Of course, consuming the right foods and drinks will only be effective when combined with proper brushing, flossing and fluoride treatments. Brushing twice a day is good, but brushing (or at least rinsing) after meals is better. Getting children on a strict regimen at a young age is imperative. Whether they like it or not, it’s for their own good. Maybe they’ll even thank you some day when they get a clean bill of health at the dentist.

More on dental health

Good oral hygiene
Starting dental care on your toddler
5 Ways to prevent childhood tooth decay

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