The New Preventable Epidemic

March 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm , by

I remember my dad saying that one of the few regrets he had in life was not taking better care of his teeth. By his 60s he had lost many of them and hated his dentures. He was typical; in fact, 43 percent of adults 65 and older have lost six or more teeth because of decay or gum disease, according to the CDC.

I have regrets, too. During college and the low-income years as a newbie journalist that followed, I procrastinated on my dental visits, too. The result? Several root canals and a couple of mega-expensive metal implants. Thousands of dollars and quite a bit of pain later, I learned my lesson for good. Now I see my dentist every six months like clockwork—and that definitely saves money in the long run. (Read our award-winning article by Sharlene Johnson on how to save on dental care here.)

But taking care of your teeth and gums saves you more than money—it could even save your life. Gum disease creates a nasty type of bacteria that can travel throughout your body, causing inflammation or infections that may lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes or pneumonia. In rare cases, oral infections can be fatal. Even in kids.

Yes, kids. And now there’s a new demographic whose teeth we need to worry about: preschoolers. A shocking story on page 1 of The New York Times today by Catherine Saint Louis is a must-read for any parent. In it, she writes that “dentists nationwide say they are seeing more preschoolers at all income levels with 6 to 10 cavities or more. The level of decay, they added, is so severe that they often recommend using general anesthesia because young children are unlikely to sit through such extensive procedure while they’re awake.” (Read it here, including really good advice from dentists.)

My jaw dropped when I read this article. In it, several dentists talk about using general anesthesia on very young kids who needed extensive work, including root canals and crowns. Apparently this has gotten pretty common. The culprit? Endless snacking and juices. And not brushing kids’ teeth. Parents need to step up to the plate on this vital health issue. Using general anesthesia on kids is risky—and really expensive. Dental problems can lead to lifelong health problems and reduced quality of life. And most important, it’s all preventable. You won’t regret it.

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4 Responses to “The New Preventable Epidemic”

  1. How can “very young kids” need root canals & caps or crowns? Are we talking about on “milk teeth”? My mim started taking me to the dentist when I was still a baby with no teeth. When I got my first teeth, I wound up with cavities & had several pulled. When my permanent ones began coming in she would take me top the dentist twice a year for fluoride treatments. Years ago, they were torture, horrible tasting, gross, you name it. I dreaded those visits! But the upside was that while I was “abused” (in my mind) twice a year, I never had a single cavity. When I was 18 the treatments were stopped because they did not believe that there would be any further benefit to continue. Within 5 years, I had 14 cavities & a root canal. Now, my teeth are almost all gone & I am faced with getting dentures (& I’m only in my 50′s). I brushed but, without dental insurance, I couldn’t afford to go to the dentist. Medical insurance is common today; employers don’t want to offer dental coverage. It is unfortunate because dental problems DO contribute to many health problems. I don’t condone the use of anesthesia on young children but I do also understand the dentists viewpoint. There was just recently a case in the NY area where a young child who was restrained in a straight jacket-like apparatus died while going through a dental procedure (while the mother was present in the room). Teaching children early on to brush their teeth (& making it fun to do) is 1 way to help prevent major dental problems. Fluoride treatments are also another way, especially in areas where water is not treated with fluoride. And good genes definitely don’t hurt.

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