It happens just about every time we go to the grocery store, especially at the time children are with their parents in the afternoons or on weekends. Children begging, not asking for sweets at the cash register.
Everyone knows that children love sugar. From sugary breakfast cereals to after school munchies to eating more junk food watching a movie and playing video games, it’s no wonder the American Dental Association is seeing a rise in Early Childhood Caries, (ECC).
Sure, we know about cavities and tooth decay but what exactly is early childhood caries? It is characterized as baby bottle caries, baby bottle tooth decay or bottle rot. ECC is a common bacterial infection, which is a rapidly growing epidemic here in the United States. Among minorities and rural populations, the highest cases are seen, and at times, affecting 70 percent of children.
Dr. Jason Creps, DDS, of Niagara Quality Care Dentistry of Niagara Falls, NY, believes ECC is preventable.
“It all starts with good parenting,” Dr. Creps said.
“It’s never a good idea to leave a baby with a bottle in their mouth overnight,” he said. “Whether it’s milk or juice, it doesn’t matter. The sugar from those drinks still affects the child’s teeth and gums. Water is the best thing.”
It may even start earlier than that, according to recent studies from the American Society of PediatricDentistry. The disease process begins with the transmission of the bacteria to the child, usually from the mother. Mothers with untreated dental disease present a very high risk for their unborn child.
“Another thing pregnant woman don’t think about is smoking,” Dr. Creps said, “They know about alcohol during the pregnancy but smoking endangers the child as well.”
According to the American Dental Association, “as soon as a baby’s teeth appear-usually by age 6 months or so- the child is susceptible to decay.”
The ADA reports that “decay occurs when sweetened liquids are given and are left clinging to an infant’s teeth for long periods of time. These drinks cause problems, including milk, formula and fruit juice. Bacteria in the mouth use these sugars as food. Then, they produce acids that attach the teeth.”
Dr. Kreps adds that some parents, for the lack of knowledge, don’t know the harm they are causing when they allow the baby bottle to rest inside the child’s mouth for long periods of time.
“It’s not just what you put in the child’s bottle but how often,” he said, “Giving your child a bottle of sweetened liquid many times a day isn’t a wise idea,” he said, “ Allowing your child to fall asleep with a bottle during naps or at night is detrimental. We have to thinkprevention,” Dr. Creps said.
An article in the Feb. 2012 issue of ADA states that Early Childhood Caries is on the rise; and this suggests that children are not receiving routine preventative care.
“I think a lot to do with it is lifestyle changes,” Elizabeth Sciarratta, a dental hygienist with McClure Dental Services in Rochester said.
“When I was a child, we drank milk and played outside after school. We ate more fresh food prepared at home,” Sciarrettto said.
“Today’s children are at a disadvantage,” she said, adding, “They go from school to indoor school activities or home with no parents. They eat pre-packaged food and drive-thru meals in the car on the way to more activities.”
The ease and convenience of prepackaged foods is a major contributor to ECC. Very young children help themselves to juice and continually sip, bathing the teeth in sugar.
The Center for Disease Control states that tooth decay alone affects more than one-fourth of U.S. children aged 2-5 years. About half of all children and two-thirds of adolescents aged 12-19 years from lower-income families have had decay.
Dr. Creps agrees with that assessment. “It all depends on what parents buy for their children. These days, people are eating a lot of processed food with high sugar, sodium or high fat content. Sugar is one of the worst things, especially if it’s in the form of high fructose corn syrup.”
Sugary cereals for breakfast, constant eating all day and then going to fast-food restaurants are partly to blame, Dr. Creps said.
“School systems are doing better with changes with lunch programs to healthier meals, however, it’s really up to parents to make sure their child is eating healthy meals and snacks at home,” he said.
Although the USDA recently rolled out new school lunch standards, Sciarratta believes they are partly to blame.
“In an institutional setting, meals must be well accepted by a majority of consumers. It must be economical, easily prepared and easily stored,” Sciarretta said.
“That usually means high carbohydrates,” she said.
USDA standard school lunches must now include fat-free or low fat milk, more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. It’s the first increase to school lunch’s standards in 15 years but won’t necessarily mean a big switch for area schools.
The changes won’t ban kid favorites like tator-tots and chicken nuggets but will be reducing saturated fats, Trans fat and sodium.
Sharon Lutz, 40, homemaker and mother of three small children, thinks the school system is doing “a pretty good job” but like everything, there is always room for improvement.
“I know at my kids’ schools, they have health seminars and people come out and speak to the kids with a giant toothbrush and talk about the importance of healthy teeth and gums,” she said, “but it’s still the job of parents to make sure they are teaching kids at home.”
Lutz praises her children for taking initiative to brush every morning and at night.
“My kids don’t really like the “kid” brand toothpastes,” she said, “They use the regular (adult) toothpaste. And we all use the Listerine Smart Rinse at night.”
As far asher children’s eating habits, Lutz explains that she allows her little ones to eat sweets but she watches how much and when they eat.
“I’d be lying if I said my kids don’t eat candy!” she jokes, “But I make sure they don’t eat a bunch of junk food right before dinner.”
“My kids eat sugar every day. I allow them to eat cookies, fruit snacks and Pop Tarts,” she said, adding that they are allowed to eat three cookies a day,as long as they all eat something healthy afterwards.
Lutz monitors her children’s food intake and is proud that none of them have cavities.
With three children under the age of ten, Lutz says she goes through gallons of milk “constantly” but it’s important.
“We all make sure we go to the dentist every 6 months and so far, so good,” she says.
The New York State Department of Health and the New York State Public Health Association have worked together with many partner organizations and individuals to develop a comprehensive State Oral Health Plan for oral health promotion, disease prevention and control.
Pediatricians are doing better including dental health in overall assessment of children’s health; however people who live in urban and rural areas suffer from lack of access to dental care and thus results in poor oral health. The ADA states that such households also more likely to be in lower-income areas, which gives a double blow of increased risk behavior and lack of access to care.
School based dental care is a great way to increase children’s access to care. Funding is the biggest obstacle.
For New Yorkers to enjoy overall health and well-being there must be new vehicles for promoting oral health and preventing disease as part of general health.
The longer problems go unnoticed or neglected, the worse it becomes. Advanced gum disease affects 4- 12 percent of U.S. adults. Half of the cases of severe gum disease in the United States arethe result of cigarette smoking, the CDC reports. The prevalenceof gum disease is three times higher among smokers than people who have never smoked.
Both Dr. Jason Creps and dental hygienist, Elizabeth Sciarretta agrees that prevention is better than cure when it comes to oral health.
Here’s what parents can do to enforce good habits with their children:
-Brush teeth together in the mornings and at night. Flossing and rinsing is a great idea too.
-Reduce sugar/ high carbs/ high fat content food in the home
-Add more fresh fruits and vegetables to the diet
-Add more protein-rich, whole grain foods
-Cut back on salt (sodium)
- Reduce trips to fast-food restaurants or stop going all together
- More dairy, to help build strong bones and teeth
- Make sure dentists visits are at least every six months
-Drink more water! Although children love carbonated drinks like sodas/ pop, those drinks have no nutritional value. Make sure juices are 100 percent juice, not 10-15 percent cocktail.
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