Half of kids ages 12-15 have tooth decay

Steps parents should take now to help their kids

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More than one-fourth of children between ages two and five suffer from tooth decay in the U.S. Half of kids between ages 12 and 15 have it. The problem has become so bad that many kids need surgery to have their numerous cavities filled.  But there are things you can do to stop it in your kids.

Five-year-old Audrey Baright brushes her teeth twice a day and flosses regularly. So her parents were shocked at her last dental appointment.  They were told Audrey had eight cavities.

Because there were so many, Audrey had to undergo general anesthesia to have them filled. Duke pediatric dentist Martha Ann Keels says it's a scenario that's becoming much more common.

"Every new patient is coming in with a mouth full of cavities," said Keels.

Using anesthesia while filling them could cause vomiting, nausea, and in rare cases, brain trauma or death. The cost can range from $2,000 to $5,000.

Keels says eating at bedtime when there's decreased saliva, drinking bottled water that doesn't contain fluoride and consuming sugary drinks are all cavity culprits. Perhaps the worst offenders are sugary, gummy candies that stick between the teeth. If your child doesn't floss often enough, the candy stays and the teeth rot.

"Little kids aren't going, oh look, I got food stuck in my teeth," Keels said.

So what can you do?  Skip juice and stick to water and milk, see a dentist by age one, brush twice a day - and floss daily. You can still enjoy a treat or two, just stick to those that melt.

"I'm a huge proponent of M&Ms or Hershey kisses," Keels added.

Audrey now takes extra good care of her teeth for one big reason…

"Because you don't want cavities," said Audrey.

Keels also says watch out for sour candies because they contain a lot of acid, which can lead to cavity formation. Gummy vitamins, raisins and cereal bars all contain sticky sugar even liquid medicines can be a big contributor to cavities. They typically contain 50 percent sugar.

Additional Information:

CAVITY CAUSES: Tooth decay begins with a group of germs called mutans streptococcus. The bacteria feed on sugar in the mouth and produce acid that eats away at the teeth by destroying calcium. The bacteria also create plaque, a yellowish film that builds up on teeth and contains more enamel-eroding acid. Once an area without calcium becomes big enough, the surface of the tooth collapses, and a cavity forms. (Source: Parents.com)

PASSED DOWN THROUGH PARENTS:  Aside from sugary foods, poor hygiene, and unfluoridated water, dental caries (cavities) can actually be passed down through the family. Babies are born without these harmful bacteria in their mouth, and studies have proven that moms (rather than dads) usually infect their children before age 2. It can happen when parents transfer saliva into the child's mouth by eating from the same spoon as the baby, or sharing toothbrushes. Also, if the parent has had cavities themself, it increases the likelihood of passing the germs along. Once a child's mouth has become colonized with the bacteria, his baby and permanent teeth will be more prone to cavities. (Source: Parents.com)

TYPICAL TREATMENT: There are multiple treatments for cavities. If decay is not extensive, the decayed portion of the tooth is removed by drilling and replaced with a filling made of silver alloy, gold, porcelain, or a composite resin. The American Dental Association (ADA), FDA, and other public health agencies continue to support the safety of this restorative material. Allergies to the restorative material are rare. If the tooth decay is extensive and there is limited tooth structure remaining, crowns will be used. If a crown is needed, the decayed or weakened area of the tooth is removed and repaired and a crown is fitted over the remainder of the tooth. (Source: Medicine Net)

NEW TREATMENTS: There are several new cavity treatments undergoing development. One experimental technique uses fluorescent light to detect the development of cavities long before they can be detected by traditional x-rays or dental exams. If cavities can be detected early, the tooth decay process can be stopped or reversed most of the time. Researchers are also working on a "smart filling" to prevent further tooth decay by slowly releasing fluoride over time around fillings and in surrounding teeth. (Source: Medicine Net)

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