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Report finds tooth decay in youngest children increasing

Tooth decay among the nation's youngest children is increasing against the grain of improving oral health for youths, adolescents and most adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The proportion of young children who had ever had dental decay in their primary teeth increased from 18 percent during 1988-1994 to 24 percent during 1999-2004, said a CDC analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an important source of information on oral health and dental care in the United States since the early 1970s.

Tooth decay is a destruction of the tooth enamel. It occurs when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches) such as milk, pop, raisins, cakes or candy are frequently left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth thrive on these foods, producing acids as a result. Over a period of time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay.

The trend among 2 to 4 year olds is actually moving away from a national Healthy People 2010 target of 11 percent for this age group. Healthy People 2010 is the third in a series of public-private sector health promotion, disease prevention and health access goals and objectives for the United States.

Changes that occur with aging make decay an adult problem, too. Recession of the gums away from the teeth, combined with an increased incidence of periodontal disease, can expose tooth roots to plaque. Tooth roots are covered with cementum, a softer tissue than enamel, making them susceptible to decay and more sensitive to touch and to hot and cold.

To learn more about what you can do to prevent tooth decay and protect your oral health, visit the American Dental Association Web site at

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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