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Why is dental surgery for preschoolers on the rise?

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To most parents, there are few things more precious than their children's smiles. Unfortunately, those toothy little grins are increasingly afflicted by decay, requiring dental surgery.

The number of preschool children needing treatment for multiple cavities is on the rise, according to The New York Times. Dentists told the newspaper they've noticed a spike in young children (across income levels) with six to 10 cavities or more.

"We have had a huge increase in kids going to the operating room," pediatric dentist Jonathan Shenkin, a spokesman for the American Dental Association, told the Times. "We're treating more kids more aggressively earlier."

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The dentists interviewed by the newspaper offered many reasons for the problem, including sweet drinks and snacks before bedtime, parents giving children bottled water instead of fluoridated tap water, and a lack of awareness among parents about proper dental care for children.

Some parents, for instance, don't insist that their toddlers brush their teeth if the children dislike it. Others mistake the aches associated with dental decay for teething, and still others don't know that infants should see a dentist before their first birthday, even if they don't have many teeth.

A major issue with dental surgery for preschool children is that extensive procedures often require the use of general anesthesia, as young patients are unlikely able to sit through them, the Times reports. However, using general anesthesia on children can be risky, leading to vomiting and nausea and even brain damage or death in extremely rare cases.

In Canada, tooth decay, or early childhood caries, is the most common childhood disease, according to the Canadian Dental Association. And dental surgery, under general anesthesia, is the most common day surgery procedure at most pediatric hospitals in the country.

The association recommends that parents check their toddler's teeth carefully once a month for dull white spots or lines, and look for dark teeth. At any of these signs of tooth decay, they should bring children to the dentist right away. All children under the age of three should have an adult brush their teeth. Between the ages of three and six, adults should supervise.

Younger infants should not be given milk, formula or juice at bedtime, and should see a dentist within six months of the emergence of their first tooth, or by age one.

The consequences are serious. Tooth decay can cause chronic pain, lead to tooth loss and interfere with a child's eating, sleeping and proper growth, the dental association says.

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Do your children put up a fuss about brushing their teeth? If so, how do you deal with it?

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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