Tooth decay disease most common reason for day surgery on children, Calgary study finds
University of Calgary researchers say Early Childhood Caries (ECC) is entirely preventable
Rotting teeth is a public health issue affecting an increasing number of Canadian children, according to a University of Calgary research paper released on Friday.
Early Childhood Caries (ECC), which used to be known as baby bottle decay, is sending one in 100 children younger than five to hospital for day surgery, the report co-authored by Jennifer Zwicker, Carolyn Dudley and Herb Emery at the U of C School of Public Policy.
The disease has become the most common reason for day surgery in children, with approximately 19,000 dental day surgeries performed in Canada each year on children under the age of six, the report adds.
- MORE ALBERTA NEWS | Joe Ceci says no 'knee-jerk' cuts to hospital and schools in upcoming Alberta budget
- MORE ALBERTA NEWS | Alberta unemployment dips to 7.1% as 19,000 new jobs created
"ECC is an entirely preventable chronic infectious disease that develops from lifestyle and behavioural factors," said the authors.
Children are left vulnerable to the disease by not brushing with fluoridated toothpaste, not having regular visits to a dentist, and consuming too much sugar — particularly bedtime bottles with juice for babies.
The report found that 50 to 90 per cent of the preschool-aged children who develop ECC come from high-risk demographics, including children from indigenous communities, new immigrants and low-income families.
"A lack of knowledge and cultural sensitivity reduce adherence to preventive measures for these children. In addition, these marginalized populations often have little to no access to oral health care for treatment," the authors said.
Education is best remedy
The best way to tackle the growing problem is to promote greater awareness of oral hygiene techniques for young children, said Zwicker, who specializes in chronic disease prevention health care reform.
"All it really takes is explaining to parents, you know, you need to be cleaning the children's gums, you need to be brushing their teeth. So that you're not ending up with children going to the emergency room needing surgery for dental pain," she said.
The report calls for more public education programs aimed at remote rural areas, especially on First Nations.
Nurses, family doctors, pediatricians and emergency room physicians also need to play a bigger role in educating parents and promoting good oral health practices in children.
Fluoridation only part of solution
A recent study showed that tooth decay in children has increased in Calgary since the city pulled fluoride from the tap water.
While the U of C study concludes municipal water fluoridation is one way to reduce tooth decay in children, it says that's not enough.
"It's a good prevention strategy but … the real point is that it's not completely preventing early childhood caries," said Zwicker.
"So you'll notice in that study there was an increase in tooth decay in Calgary and in Edmonton, even though Edmonton has fluoride and Calgary doesn't."