Early Childhood Tooth Decay
Early Childhood Caries (ECC) or tooth decay in very young children is a chronic, infectious dental disease. Yet, ECC is almost completely preventable. Children with ECC may have pain, difficulty with eating, sleeping, speech and negatively impact learning in the classroom. If left untreated, ECC can impact proper development and alignment of teeth and jaws. The bacteria associated with cavities can also spread to adjacent tissues causing life threatening infections.
ECC can be found in children as young as one. In fact, 28% of preschoolers examined had tooth decay. Many young children with ECC require treatment under general anesthesia in a hospital operating room. Despite such costly treatment there is a high rate of relapse among these children.
THE INFORMATION GAP
ECC is one of the world’s most widespread communicable diseases and it is largely preventable. Unfortunately, there is a lack of information provided to caretakers at the time it is most crucial to limiting the spread of this disease. This window period begins before the baby is born and extends into early childhood.
During this time period, there is an information void regarding early assessment, the etiology of cavities, and general infant oral health care. Very few parents know that dental caries is a transmissible disease that is often passed directly from a caretaker through pre-tasting a baby’s food. This occurs around the time the first baby teeth begin to emerge.
There is also widespread confusion regarding when to bring a child for their first dental check-up. Many parents, healthcare professionals, and even general/ family dentists resist making the first dental visit before the child is three or even five in many cases. The American Academy of Family Physicians and the Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends all children have their first oral wellness exam at 6 months of age.