More than a toothache: Multiple cavities send preschoolers to surgery

Dental surgery centers report increase in pediatric volumes

A growing number of preschool-aged children are seeking dental care for six or more cavities, pushing many dentists to use general anesthesia to complete extensive treatment procedures.

CDC in 2007 reported that the number of young children with cavities had increased for the first time in four decades, and Times interviews with 20 dentists suggest that the problem is growing. Meanwhile, dentists say tooth decay is often so extensive that they recommend that children undergo anesthesia because many are unable to sit still during treatment.

For example, the dental surgery center at Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Children's Hospital treated about 2,525 children in 2011, 6% more than in 2010. According to Nationwide dentist-anesthesiologist Megann Smiley, the center's average patient is 4 years old and has decay in six to eight teeth. Several times per week, patients come in with 12 to 16 cavities, she says.

Experts attribute the surge in tooth decay in preschoolers to sweet drinks around bedtime, bottled water that is not fluoridated, and a lack of awareness about appropriate dental hygiene for infants and toddlers (Saint Louis, New York Times, 3/6).

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