Why Cavities Are on the Rise in Preschoolers

Recently, Breezy Mama Bestie Panini Happy Kathy sent me an article that covered the rise in cavities in preschool age children. Clearly, we are a generation that is well aware of proper dental hygiene and at a time when dentists are recommending first time appointments at earlier and earlier ages, so what gives? For the latest recommended age to take your child to the dentist, the foods that are causing more cavities in preschool kids, common mistakes parents make when brushing their child’s teeth and more, Breezy Mama turned to Dr. Matt Davis to sink our teeth into the matter.

In a time when there is more awareness on proper dental hygiene, why are cavities on the rise in preschool age children?

There is definitely no single reason as to why cavities are on the rise in children. It is most likely a cumulative effect of many things. More and more people today are drinking mainly bottled water in their house and avoiding their fluoridated tap water. Fluoride is one of the biggest benefits that we have in fighting the tooth decay. Fluoride helps in the process of strengthening the enamel of teeth. Constant snacking on sugary foods and drinks can also play a big role, especially before bedtime. And there is still a big lack of awareness out there about how and when to start caring for children’s teeth should occur.

What are foods (and beverages) that are certain to increase the potential for tooth decay?

Sugar and starch are what the bacteria in your mouth need to begin the process of tooth decay. So limiting the frequency with which your child snacks on these types of foods can help tremendously. Sticky food, such as dried fruits, fruit roll up and sticky candy are not as easily washed away by the saliva in your mouth and have the potential to be even more cavity causing. In very young children the biggest culprit is being nursed to sleep or being put to bed with a bottle of milk or formula. While they sleep the bacteria in their mouth are being constantly fed the sugars they need to begin the decay process.

What is the recommended age for taking a child to the dentist?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry now recommends that a child’s first dental visit be by 1 years old. The most important reason for such an early visit is so parents can begin to learn to care for their child’s teeth. At our office we refer to this visit as a “well baby check” and is typically free of charge. At this visit we review your child’s diet and discuss an early prevention program, as well as go over proper home care. We will also talk about what to do in the case of any dental emergency that may arise.

When Breezy Mama started three years ago, the age was 3 years old. Back in the good ‘ol days when I was growing up, dental visits were recommended at age 5 or so. Yet, now, the age is even younger, but cavities are on the rise – why?

Even though the recommended age is younger, I still don’t think there is a great deal of awareness out there about it. We still see a number of children for their first visit between 3 and 4 years of age. By waiting until this age, many problems are beginning to manifest by then. I hope as time goes on, people become more aware and educated of these new guidelines. This will help in the decline of cavities in young children.

What steps do you recommend to avoid cavities in young children?

At will breast feeding at night should try to be avoided. Especially after the first tooth erupts and other food sources have been introduced. Children should not fall asleep with a bottle containing anything other than water. As far as caring for their teeth,as soon as the first tooth comes in, begin brushing the teeth and gums with a soft bristled toothbrush and continue to help until at least 7 or 8 years old. Let their first tooth remind you to schedule their first visit with a pediatric dentist. It is never to early started on a prevention program.

What are common mistakes parents make when it comes to proper tooth hygiene for their children?

The biggest mistake parents make is not starting early enough. I hear from people all the time that they don’t bother to brush because their child does not like it. And believe me I get it, I have a 2 and 4 year old at home and most of the time it is a battle to get it done. But just remember that 2 minutes of fussing and crying at home while brushing their teeth can save a lot of unnecessary and very preventable dental treatment down the road.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Just be proactive in your child’s dental care, both at home and with your pediatric dentist. It’s never too early to get your child started on a good preventative program!

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About Dr. Matt Davis

Dr. Matt Davis is proud and excited to be a part his father’s Pediatric Dental Practice. He is a native of Encinitas and graduated from San Dieguito High School in 1995. He attended the University of California at Los Angeles where he received his bachelor’s degree in 2000. During his years at UCLA Matt played volleyball and earned two NCAA National Championships and was voted first team All American in his final year. In June of 2005 he received his Doctor of Dental Surgery Degree from the University of the Pacific, School of Dentistry where he graduated with high honors and received special recognition for his treatment of pediatric patients. He was also inducted into both the Tau Kappa Omega and Omicron Kappa Upsilon honor societies. He returned to the University of California at Los Angeles where he completed a two-year Pediatric residency program. He is currently a Diplomat for the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry.

Dr. Davis is delighted to reside once again in Encinitas along with his wife Alynda and two daughters. He enjoys surfing along with most other ocean sports and snow skiing in his off time.

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  1. I am uncertain that this dentist should be giving breastfeeding advice. I would be interested in seeing his research in regards to nighttime feeding and also babies who fall asleep while nursing and the link between cavities. While I am certainly not a medical professional everything I have read about this says this simply has not been proven.

  2. Glad you decided to cover this! My 2yo begs to brush his teeth every morning (I think it’s because he knows breakfast comes next!).

  3. gummy vitamins are a big culprit, too. Anything sticky is, but we think we are doing our children a service by giving them gummies, and the sugar sits there and eats their teeth.

  4. Valerie Sorrells says:

    My grandson who is three almost needed a root canal but luckily they did not need to afterall. He has not very much enamel on his teeth so it is essential for the rest of his life to keep his teeth clean.
    Great articlel


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