Early childhood caries (tooth decay, which leads to cavities) is the most common chronic infectious disease of childhood. Tooth decay is an infectious disease process that damages tooth structure and eventually makes holes (cavities) in the teeth. The consequence of early childhood tooth decay is more than unattractive teeth. Early childhood caries can cause severe pain, speech difficulty, and poor nutrition and interfere with sleep. It can start serious infections elsewhere in the body, such as the brain, lungs or heart. Treatment for tooth decay can require expensive dental services. These services in young children often require general anesthesia and treatment in an operating room. Dental caries are nearly entirely preventable.

The caries process begins when plaque builds up on teeth, usually because of poor toothbrushing habits and inappropriate nutrition. Plaque is a sticky substance produced by bacteria that live near the gumline of the teeth. Children become infected sometime...

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