The tooth fairy might be working overtime this year. According to the largest government dental study in 25 years, tooth decay in baby teeth has risen from 24% to 28% in children ages 2 to 5 since 1999. Before that, tooth decay had been on the decline for 40 years.
Food for Thought
Experts believe that this new trend might have something to do with kids’ eating habits. “Parents are giving their children more processed snack foods than in the past and more bottled water or other drinks instead of fluoridated tap water, ” said Dr. Bruce Dye, of the National Center for Health Statistics, who lead the study.
Bottled water often does not have the right amount of fluoride. Fluoride is a substance that is found naturally in water. Research has shown that at certain levels, it strengthens tooth enamel and helps prevent tooth decay. Many communities add fluoride to their water supplies to tap into this cavity-fighting power.
Processed snack foods tend to be loaded with sugar. Sweet, starchy foods stick to the teeth, forming a film. If that film is not brushed away, it can lead to tooth decay.
Children have 20 baby teeth. Most kids start losing their baby teeth when they are about 6 years old, but some fall out earlier. Dentists are calling for parents to take kids as young as 1 year old to the dentist to help prevent cavities.
A Reason to Smile
Thankfully, not all the news is bad. The study found that kids age 6 to 11 have fewer cavities. Experts think this might be due to the fact that more dentists are using dental sealants, or plastic coatings that are applied to teeth to prevent decay.
Adults can also share in the good news. A serious form of gum disease called periodontitis has decreased by 50% in adults 20 to 64 years old. “Overall, we can say that most Americans are noticing an improvement in their oral health,” said Dye.