Do you know what the most common chronic disease is affecting American children? It's not obesity. And it's not allergies, though those are good guesses. It's cavities. Or as health experts call them, dental caries.  

Well, that's no big deal, right? Dental caries just affect the teeth — teeth that kids are going to lose anyway as they make way for their adult chompers. So why worry? 

Dental caries are a big deal. Cavities lead to inflammation and infections that could seriously harm a child's health. And they can affect the growth and development of permanent teeth even before they break the surface of the gums. To combat the recent increases in dental caries, health experts have announced new dental recommendations for kids that they hope will reduce the number and severity of cavities in kids.

Cavities are caused when bacteria sit around in the mouth and start to erode tooth enamel. According to a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 59 percent of kids between 12 and 19 have at least one cavity, and poor and minority children are disproportionately affected. A child's chances of getting dental caries depend on a number of factors, namely diet, genetics and oral hygiene

The AAP recently announced new recommendations for dental hygiene for children, stating that all children should start using toothpaste with fluoride when their teeth appear, regardless of their risk level for cavities. Previously, health experts worried that fluoride toothpaste might be harmful for young children who may be more likely than older kids to swallow the paste. But these new recommendations reflect the view that a small amount of fluoride is necessary to protect teeth and keep kids healthy. The AAP recommends that parents use only a teeny bit of fluoride toothpaste — about as big as a grain of sand — to brush their child's teeth. And that they start doing so as soon as the teeth start popping through the gums.

Talk to your child's doctor or dentist for more information about kids and cavities and the best ways to protect your kids from tooth decay.

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