KMPH Special Report: Brushing Aside Our Kids Health

According to the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center, every year, about 51-million hours of school are lost because of dental-related illnesses.

Dental disease is the number one chronic health problem for American kids, like Ben who started complaining of a toothache. One look in his mouth revealed why.

"You can see the decay on his teeth," Ben's mom, Leah, said.

Dentists found cavities in 15 of Ben's 20 teeth and recommended dental surgery.

"They're going to be pulling a lot of the teeth, and so anything left is going to be either capped or filled," Leah said.

Ben's case is hardly unique.

Dr. Jonathan Shenkin with the American Dental Association says there's been a dramatic rise in the number of children requiring surgery for extensive tooth decay.

Dentists are performing everything from fillings and crowns to root canals and extractions.

In some hospitals, there are even waiting lists months long.

"These are children anywhere from the age of one or two, up until they're six or seven," Shenkin said.

The tooth decay seen is so severe, that dentists are routinely treating 10 or more baby teeth at a time.

"General anesthesia is the preferred choice in many instances because of the volume of treatment, and to place the patient in the position of the best health for them long term," Dr. Joel Berg, with the University of Washington Center for Pediatric Dentistry, said.

Berg says one of the main culprits is sugar in things like juice, sweetened water, soda, even milk and starches.

"It has a lot to do with the frequency of sugar. How often do you have sugar during the day? Every time you eat sugar, acid is formed that starts to dissolve the enamel," Berg said.

Proper dental hygiene is another factor.

The American Dental Association recommends scheduling a child's first visit by age one.

"We can actually inform parents of the behaviors they need to be doing at home with tooth brushing and nutrition, and put them on the right path to good oral health," Berg said.

That's why it's important to brush up on the basics.

When teeth first come in, clean them with a damp cloth.

Then at about one year, use a toothbrush with water, or fluoride-free training toothpaste.

Get your child used to the idea of getting into the habit of brushing.

"Most parents are unaware that they're supposed to start using fluoride toothpaste no later than two years of age, and that delay in using fluoride toothpaste puts kids at greater risk of developing significant decay early on," Shenkin said.

Finally, encourage healthy eating and brush your preschooler's teeth twice a day.

It's also important for your children to avoid sharing pacifiers or utensils.

Research has shown the bacteria that causes tooth decay can be transferred via-saliva.

According to a new study published in this month's issue of "Pediatrics" Magazine, children on Medicaid are even less likely to see the dentist regularly.

The report found, only about one-third of U.S. children on Medicaid go to the dentist every year.