Explaining the Increase in Children's Tooth Decay

"This report heartens me. I feel good about it. While I think that we still have a long ways to go, this shows that disadvantaged children have gotten more care."

Hayes said if this is true, it will certainly be good news for the dental health of the country's children.

"It could be more detection -- one would hope that is the case," she said. However, she adds that there has been consistency in the research performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a point bolstered by Dye.

"The method used in both survey periods was exactly the same," Dye said. "This is not an artifact of our ability to better detect tooth decay. The increase we saw is the number of kids who are experiencing tooth decay."

Spare the Tap, Spoil the Child

Another possible cause for the rise is the fact that today's kids drink far less tap water than they used to. Kathleen Roth, president of the American Dental Association, told ABC News medical editor Dr. Timothy Johnson, on ABC News Now's "Healthy Life" program, that with more and more parents serving their children bottled water and fruit juices, children may be missing out on a source of fluoride in tap water that has traditionally kept kids' teeth strong.

"We all know that fluoride is very important in stopping and preventing dental disease," she said, adding that parents should be sure to check the labels of bottled water, because some products on the market now have added fluoride.

Hayes agreed. "Bottled water without fluoride for children diminishes an opportunity for good dental health that they get from drinking plain tap water."

"Water with trace levels of fluoride in it has been shown to be one of the major reasons why children in this generation and the last generation have less decay than children 50 years ago."

Nutrition, Dental Care Important

Experts agreed, though, that traditional and preventable tooth decay culprits -- too much sugar and not enough dental care -- also played a role.

"To me it is absolutely outrageous that we have gone from 50 percent, to 25 percent, to 20 percent, but that we are still somewhere between 20 and 30 percent," Hayes said. "That's such a significant and high amount."

"I would say we still need to get back to the basics of proven oral hygiene and watch what we eat and drink and how we take care of our teeth," Dye said. "It's probably as simple as that."

Dye adds that advances in dental care, such as sealants and other new technologies, are good news for parents who want to keep their children's teeth as healthy as possible.

That includes parents like Elliott, who said she could certainly give other parents valuable advice when it comes to safeguarding their young children's teeth.

"I would tell them to take their babies to the dentist as soon as possible," Elliott said. "I think the younger you take them and the sooner you catch it, the better the prognosis. Really, nowadays, I think that as soon as they get teeth, you should get them in to the dentist."

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