Dentists across South Australia are raising the alarm about the declining state of dental health in their young patients.

According to a worrisome new report, the numbers of children requiring serious dental care have shot up drastically in recent years — as much as a 55 percent increase over the course of the last decade. The study looked at children under eight years old, but dentists are especially worried about the large numbers of kids under one year old who are already showing signs of tooth decay.

So what factors have led to these troublingly large numbers of children with cavities? Dentists weigh in and report that they’ve seen many causes.

What causes child tooth decay?

The root of the problem is that children simply consume far more sugar than is good for them. Sugar encourages the growth of bacteria that damage the delicate enamel of baby teeth and lead to the formation of cavities. Sugary drinks and sweet treats are the obvious culprits here.

However, consuming soft drinks and candy isn’t the only problem. Unfortunately, many parents are not aware of the high sugar content in many common foods given to kids. That includes yogurt, sports drinks, granola bars and even fruit. Most types of processed foods — which tend to be popular with children — contain high levels of added sugar unbeknownst to many families.

Even milk can cause tooth decay. Many kids with cavities developed tooth decay from being put to bed with bottles of milk. When sugar is allowed to stay on the teeth and gums and isn’t promptly removed, bacteria grows. Drinking a bottle of milk and allowing the sugars and growing bacteria to remain in contact with the teeth all night often leads to tooth decay, especially in the front teeth.

Parents must practice better preventive care

When teeth come in, they are quite vulnerable to decay, and parents should take every precaution to limit their contact with sugars. In addition to monitoring children’s diets, that also involves removal of bacteria buildup by practicing good dental hygiene. In addition to brushing regularly, simply wiping off the teeth after meals and snacks can go a long way toward preventing bacterial growth.

Parents also must closely monitor their children while they are brushing their teeth. Studies have shown that kids aren’t capable of practicing proper dental hygiene until they are nine years old. Even though kids can start brushing their own teeth at a young age, it should only be under parental supervision to ensure that they’re doing an adequate job.

Flossing is also important for children. Dentists recommend that parents start flossing their kids’ teeth around age four. This not only helps protect the baby teeth, but also helps little ones develop good habits to last them a lifetime. Though there are child tooth decay treatment options and toddler cavity filling is available, prevention is the best approach.

Education is the answer

Sadly, many parents mean well but are simply not aware of how much they should be doing in terms of monitoring the amount of sugars their children consume, diligently cleaning their kids’ teeth, and helping them to practice good brushing and dental hygiene routines. South Australian dentists are calling for expanded education programs to give parents the tools they need to understand the risk and help their kids keep their teeth healthy.