smiling child

Kids and Cavities

            Are you up for a deep dive into the sugar-laden, acid-loving world of the cavity? That’s where we’re headed today. As parents, we know how it is—kids and cavities seem to be often found together. Cavities are the single most common chronic disease of childhood. It seems impossible to stop them from developing! That’s why we think it’s worth taking some time as parents to arm ourselves with knowledge against this enemy of dental health.

What is a Cavity, Anyway, and How Do Kids Get Them?

               A cavity is essentially a hole or a pit in the tooth. It occurs when plaque (a filmy substance made up of bacteria and acid) eats away at the hard, protective outer layer of the tooth known as the enamel. While everyone is susceptible to cavities—from babies who’ve just gotten their first tooth all the way to those who hardly have any teeth left—children are especially vulnerable. As the Bellbrook Dentistry points out, children are less attentive than adults when it comes to brushing and flossing. They also tend to be pickier eaters and might reach for the bag of chips or the sugary popsicle over the nutrients their body really needs. Furthermore, teeth don’t come in perfectly straight and evenly spaced rows, which tends to lead to overcrowding, which is an invitation for cavities. 

               All these factors mean that 42% of kids ages 2-11 will have cavities in their primary teeth. If your child has one, they’re not alone. A variety of factors contribute to cavities, such as:

Poor diet.

If your kid consumes a steady diet of white bread, chips, candy, ice cream, and other junk food, you can bet that cavities are sure to follow. Most people intuitively understand this. However, it’s also important to realize that picky eaters (think the three-year-old who only eats PB&Js) might miss out on important nutrients that they need for their teeth to develop strong and healthy, such as calcium or fiber.

Poor brushing habits.

Kids don’t usually have the fine motor skills needed to brush well by themselves until at least age six, and sometimes much later. If a child is brushing their own teeth and doing a poor job, brushing sporadically, or even not brushing at all, their dental health will suffer dramatically.

Poor flossing habits.

Similarly, flossing is tricky for little hands to get the hang of. Parents need to floss for their children until they’re easily able to maneuver the task. If a child is poorly flossing or failing to floss at all, it’s a recipe for cavities.

Genetic predisposition.

Although research is ongoing, there is reason to believe that some children may simply be born with weaker enamel than others, and therefore be predisposed to develop cavities.

How Can I Tell If My Kid Has One?

               There are several signs that will indicate to you that all is not right with your child’s teeth. For starters, are they complaining that it hurts when they bite down on or chew things? Cavities erode the protective shell of your teeth and expose the vulnerable insides, causing this sensitivity. This might also mean your kid is overly sensitive to hot and cold sensations. Intense pain from extreme temperatures is a common sign of tooth decay.

If your child is always complaining of a toothache, that’s another clue that they might have developed a cavity. It’s also telling if they persistently have bad breath, even after brushing and flossing. Tooth decay produces unpleasant odors that can’t be eliminated, even by diligent brushing. Sometimes, you can even see the cavity itself. If you notice a dark spot or a pit on your son or daughter’s tooth, that’s a telltale sign of decay. If you notice one of these signs or some combination of them, it might be time to take your kid to the dentist.

How are Cavities Fixed?

            The way a cavity is fixed depends on the situation. How many cavities does your child have? Are they very severe, or just barely there? Is your kid able to sit still in the chair long enough to have multiple fixed at a time, or will you have to come back or forth to have them fixed at different visits? These are all circumstantial questions that your dentist will assess before moving forward with the best plan for your son or daughter.

            Normal cavities can be fixed by patching up the hole with a metal or composite substance. This is known as a filling, which makes sense—cavities are pits in the teeth; they need to be filled back in. That’s why you hear people say they’re going to get a cavity filled. Dentists can apply fillings on baby teeth and adult teeth alike. Sometimes, if the decay has progressed so far that a filling won’t be enough, the dentist may have to use a dental crown. Those are the silver caps that you see on people’s teeth. If the decay is so out of control that not even a crown can save the tooth, the dentist will extract it. This should only be the last resort, however (more on why later).

How Can I Stop My Kid from Getting a Cavity?

            Surely, both parent and child would prefer that there was no cavity in the first place, rather than having to go to the dentist and get it filled. But that’s easier said than done. With all the sugary cereals, juices, and snack-sized chip bags that kids consume on a regular basis, how can parents protect kids’ teeth?

Say no to junk (or at least, scale back).

Sugary foods eat away at your child’s enamel. Why not let dessert be a special treat, instead of an everyday occurrence? If your son or daughter drinks large quantities of soda or juice, there’s another great place to scale back and reduce the risk of cavities. Replacing their afternoon snack of a bag of chips with some fruit and peanut butter instead would also remove nutrient-low starches in favor of nutrient-rich, teeth-supporting deliciousness.

Say yes to healthy, teeth-happy foods.

You guessed it—the process works in reverse, too. If you want your kid to stay cavity-free, not only does it mean steering clear of the soda except on special occasions, it also means packing their diet with calcium, fiber, antioxidants, phosphorous—all the nutrients that their teeth need to fight decay and do their job.

Ensure proper brushing habits.

When they’re young, children lack the dexterity to brush by themselves. That’s why parents have to brush for them. But sometimes, that responsibility is handed off to the child a bit too soon. They might not brush all surfaces, or they may slack on brushing their teeth at all out of dislike for the task. As we all know, brushing teeth is nonnegotiable for dental health. If you want to prevent your child developing cavities, the first step is to make sure that their brushing job is thorough.

Make flossing part of the fun.

Similarly, flossing is crucial to oral health. There are crevices that brushing simply can’t reach, so if a kid doesn’t floss, they’re giving bacteria a free home. If you want to prevent cavities in your kid, motivate them to floss every day.

Drink fluorinated water.

Sometimes, the problem might be that a kid just isn’t getting enough fluoride intake. This can usually be solved through drinking fluorinated water. According to HealthyChildren, “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Dental Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that water fluoridation is safe and works to prevent tooth decay. Community water fluoridation has been shown to reduce tooth decay by 25%.”

They’re Just Baby Teeth—Why Does It Matter?

            Throughout all of this, the thought might have crossed your mind once or twice, Why is this such a big deal? Does it really matter if kids get cavities in their baby teeth? They’re just going to fall out anyway. That’s a great question. There are a couple of important reasons why yes, it does matter.

Baby teeth save space for adult teeth.

If a tooth is lost prematurely due to decay, other teeth may crowd into that space. That will cause trouble when it comes time for the permanent tooth to take its place. What’s more, if the decay spreads deep enough, there’s a possibility it could reach the permanent tooth even if that permanent tooth hasn’t even erupted yet. That’s why baby teeth play a crucial role in creating a healthy, normal adult smile; the premature loss of a baby tooth could lead to long-term misalignment of the teeth, ongoing trouble.

Cavities can cause discomfort and pain.

Besides the long-term consequences of cavities in baby teeth, they usually cause discomfort in the moment. As mentioned, your child might experience pain when biting down, or heightened sensitivity to intense temperatures. If the cavity is obviously visible, they may also experience the emotional pain of embarrassment over a smile damaged by decay.

Cavities interfere with speaking and eating.

If a child loses a baby tooth due to decay, their speech development will likely be hindered. If it hurts every time they bite down on something, you’ll likely have problems getting them to eat well. Cavities may seem insignificant on baby teeth, but they have the power to affect things as basic and essential as how a child can speak and what they can eat.  

This is not an exhaustive list of why baby teeth matter. But this should be enough to help you realize that if your child has a cavity, even on their baby teeth, a trip to the dentist is in order. More important, perhaps, is making sure that they don’t develop cavities in the first place! To do that, we encourage making sure that they brush their teeth twice daily for two minutes each time, floss every day, see the dentist regularly, and eat a nutrient-dense diet that’s low on excess sugars.

            If you are concerned that your child may be dealing with a cavity, or you just want to know more about how to prevent cavities for your children, we would be happy to speak with you. Cavities are the most common chronic disease threatening children, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be overcome. You can contact our office to schedule your next appointment today. We would love to see you.

About Our Team

Our team of dental experts has well over 30 years of combined experience in the field of dentistry. To learn more about them, please visit our team page or stop by the clinic and say hello!