SIKESTON -- Following a national trend, local dentists are seeing an increase of cavities among children in the past several years.
But this year, most reported a drop, due to preventative efforts and the encouragement of healthy dental habits.
"We like meeting the the parents and the children when they're still young so the young children have a dental home," said Gail Redman, dental director at the SEMO Health Network. "And that way we help encourage healthy habits to decrease cavities."
Natalie Wescoat, a hygienist for Timothy Rausch, agreed. "When we did our screenings this year, they were a lot better," she said. But over the previous years, she added, the children they have seen through screenings had more tooth decay.
A new study from the Centers for Disease Control shows 28 percent of 2- to-5-year-old children surveyed from 1999 to 2004 had cavities, compared with 24 percent of children surveyed from 1988 to 1994.
Elizabeth Priggel of Priggel Family Dentistry partially blamed the trend on increased sugar consumption among youth. Other contributing factors are improper brushing and flossing and infrequent check-ups.
"A lot of kids are drinking soda and Kool-Aid rather than milk," Priggel said. "They need more milk and calcium for growing bones."
Another issue is that parents put their children to bed with a sippy cup of juice or milk.
"That's a big no-no," said Wescoat. "If they take a sip all night long, they're having acid attacks on their teeth the entire night. The acid is what breaks down the enamel."
And even milk has acid and is just as bad, Wescoat said. She suggested that a parent who is soothing a crying child just give their child water.
"A lot of parents think milk is fine, but it's not," Redman agreed. "It pulls around the teeth and causes decay."
She has treated babies who aren't even a year old for cavities, likely caused by going to bed with a bottle.
But it isn't just taking a cup to bed at night, sipping on one throughout the day is problematic, too.
"If you drink juice, drink it at meal time and be done with it," Priggel said. "Even though it's more healthy (than soda and Kool-Aid), it's got a lot of sugar."
Priggel noted that well water can be dangerous to teeth, as it doesn't have enough fluoride. Most schools have fluoride programs, and the trend is to get a fluoride varnish, now only available at the dentist's office, Redman said.
"They are getting some programs into different states to get it in the school systems," she added.
In addition to having a good diet, it's also a must for young children and their parents to develop good dental habits.
"We can't make patients brush their teeth, but we can encourage them," Redman said.
The three agreed that parents need to monitor their children, or even brush their teeth for them, until the child is about 6.
Wescoat, who has a young daughter, said that she will brush her child's teeth first, then give her the toothbrush to finish.
"I let her be a part of it, but I make sure it's done right the first time," she said.
Since Wescoat's daughter is a big fan of Elmo, she has an Elmo toothbrush, and they sing while brushing. "I make it where it's fun for her," Wescoat said. Redman and Priggel agreed character toothbrushes or even more kid-friendly toothpaste is a good idea.
Priggel also noted that floss is necessary, and the best protocol is for a parent to do it with a floss pick.
Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a child's first dental visit be scheduled as soon as their first tooth erupts -- usually when they are about six months old. And check-ups need to be scheduled every six months.
Wescoat and Priggel were a bit more flexible on the age for the first visit. They both said a parent could wait until the child was 2 and had all the baby teeth in, unless a problem was suspected.
The dentists also urged a problem be taken care of as soon as it begins, not to wait until it intensifies.
"If you let decay go, it's not going to get any better," Wescoat said.
Priggel agreed, and said that if a problem goes for too long, it can involve a painful process. "That can give them a bad memory of the dentist's office."