Tooth Decay Most Common Day Surgery for Children: Canadian Study

Rotting teeth is a public health issue affecting an increasing number of Canadian children, finds a new Canadian study.


ECC (formerly called “baby bottle decay”) is a serious disease that is about much more than cavities on baby teeth.

According to the study released Friday in Canada, ECC is a growing public health problem with adverse long-term effects on children’s physical, emotional and intellectual well-being and a needless drain on costs in the public health-care system.

A paper released by The School of Public Policy and authors Jennifer Zwicker, Carolyn Dudley and Herb Emery provides background on the aetiology, risk factors and prevalence of ECC in Canada and a scope for the magnitude of this preventable disease in children.

The paper addresses three key areas for change:

  • Need for increased public education and access to ECC prevention services for at-risk populations: Parents need to be informed of the causes of ECC and how to prevent it.

  • Empower health care professionals to integrate ECC prevention in their early visits with parents of young children. Knowledge is power.

  • Government should invest in preventive oral health services for children rather than relying on emergency dental care: Children should have access to early preventive dental services to instil habits for lifetime oral health.

According to the paper, “While prevention really is the best medicine, there is a need to ensure that children who need dental care don’t see their first dentist in the emergency department.” An oral health prevention strategy for children that ensures all children have access to preventive dental care is the most cost-effective and efficient long-term strategy for oral health problems.

“A lack of knowledge and cultural sensitivity reduce adherence to preventive measures for these children. In addition, these marginalised populations often have little to no access to oral health care for treatment,” the authors said.

The best way to tackle the growing problem is to promote greater awareness of oral hygiene techniques for young children, said Zwicker, who specialises in chronic disease prevention health care reform.

“All it really takes is explaining to parents, ‘you know, you need to be cleaning 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.

Below are some statistics on Cavities from the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS)

  • 57 per cent of 6 to 11 year olds have or have had a cavity.

  • 59 per cent of 12 to 19 year olds have or have had a cavity.

  • The average number of teeth affected by decay in children aged 6 to 11 and 12 to 19 year olds is 2.5.

  • Although cavities are largely preventable, 96 per cent of adults have a history of cavities.

  • 6 per cent of adult Canadians no longer have any natural teeth.

21 per cent of adults with teeth have, or have had, a moderate or a severe periodontal (gum) problem. – Sean Lennox