The Kids' Cavity Epidemic: How to Protect Your Kid's Teeth (and Avoid Toddler Root Canal!)

Like most toddlers, dental hygiene isn't exactly on the top of my two-year-old's priority list. So that means twice a day we have the same battle: After letting him have a chance to try and brush his teeth himself, I pin his arms, enthusiastically sing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" and frantically attempt to brush his tiny teeth. The routine is usually unpleasant for the both of us, but after reading about sky-rocketing rates of toddler cavities, I've become even more vigilant.

Dentists throughout the country report seeing more preschoolers at all income levels with six to 10 cavities -- sometimes more, according to The New York Times. In many cases, the level of decay is so extensive (think root canal for the Yo Gabba Gabba set) that dentists have to put kids under general anesthesia so they'll be still long enough for the dental work to be completed.
 
Experts blame poor dental hygiene habits, endless snacking, too much juice and soda drinking and limited use of fluoride for the rise in cavities. But parents can help protect their kids' chompers. Here's how:
 
Don't blow off brushing. It can be so tempting to skip tooth brushing with uncooperative toddlers, but as Jed Best, a pediatric dentist in Manhattan, told the Times, "I'd much rather have a kid cry with a soft toothbrush than when I have to drill a cavity.'"
 
Slow down on snacking. Focus on feeding your child at mealtime, rather than through constant daytime munching -- since more saliva, which washes away starches and sugars, is produced when eating a full meal, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD).
 
Avoid sharing with your kid. While you may not think of cavitites as "contagious," grown-ups can pass germs that cause tooth decay to their kids when they share cups and utensils.
 
Don't fear fluoride. Parents may think that bottled water is a healthier option for kids, but public tap water has fluoride, which protects tiny teeth. Water with fluoride is the number one way to prevent tooth decay, according to the AAPD, so if you choose bottled water, look for a brand with added fluoride.
 
Limit soda and juice. When kids sip on sugared drinks for an extended period, they up the risk for tooth decay. Dr. Man Wai Ng , the dentist in chief at Children's Hospital Boston, told the Times she recommends kids have no more than four ounces of juice a day, and the AAPD suggests giving older kids only water in between meals. A better treat: chocolate milk.
 
Visit the dentist before age one. The longer kids delay seeing the dentist, the worse a cavity problem can get. The AAPD recommends children see a dentist shortly after their first tooth or before their first birthday. It might not be the most fun activity your child ever does, but it sure beats root canal.

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