CHICAGO (CBS) — Brushing your teeth is a daily ritual, but many parents don’t realize that even the tiniest teeth need a lot of TLC.

As CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist reports, a growing number of preschoolers have mouthfuls of cavities that require surgery to fix.

When 3-year-old Ben started complaining of a tooth ache, one look in his mouth revealed the reason why. Dentists found cavities in 15 of Ben’s 20 teeth.

“They’re going to be pulling a lot of the teeth, and so anything left is going to be either capped or filled,” Ben’s mother, Leah, says.

The child’s case is hardly unique.  Dentists are performing everything from fillings and crowns to root canals and extractions.

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

Dr. Indru Punwani, head of the College of Dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago,  says he has seen a dramatic rise in young children needing massive dental work.

“We are now getting 16-month-old babies with front teeth blown away because of putting the child asleep with a bottle containing a sweetener,” he says.

That was the issue for 3-year-old Jose, who came to UIC with a tooth ache and ended up having major dental work.  He said Jose needed to have four extractions, six cavities filled and a root canal.

“Unfortunately, that’s a very common phenomenon,” he says. “It is so awful when we know that this is such a preventable disease.”

Punwani says there are simple steps to prevent the problem.  Never put your baby to bed with a bottle containing sugary drinks like juice and milk.  Avoid numerous, sweet snacks throughout the day. Skip bottled water, tap is best for the fluoride.

“Many people think that baby teeth are just baby teeth,” he says. “There have been reported cases of infection from the upper jaw moving up to the brain.  And a child can die.”

That’s why it’s important to brush up on the basics. When teeth first erupt, clean them with a damp cloth. At one year, start brushing.  When teeth start coming together at around age two, start flossing.

That’s what Ben’s mom does.  She’s all smiles now that his teeth are fixed.

Dental experts recommend scheduling your child’s first visit to the dentist before they turn one. Also, don’t let your child share pacifiers or utensils with other children.  Research has shown the bacteria that causes tooth decay can be transferred via saliva.

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