Tooth decay, and the cavities it can lead to, can be prevented with good oral health habits and regular dental visits. However, it sometimes can be hard to maintain young children’s oral health.
How Do Cavities Occur?
Cavities can occur when dental plaque builds up. Plaque is a sticky substance covering teeth, that is a result of bacteria combining with food particles, acid, and saliva. Acids in plaque remove minerals in tooth enamel, eroding it and causing holes, or dental caries and cavities.
Regular brushing and flossing can prevent plaque from building up. Children often don’t brush and floss properly, which leads to an increased risk of plaque, and cavities, in your child’s teeth.
Risks of cavities are higher if others in the family have them or get them easily, or if your child has special health concerns and needs. Wearing braces, orthodontics, or other oral appliances also increases the likelihood of cavities.
However, the greatest risk is whether your child frequently has sugary drinks and eats sticky foods, especially between meals and especially if your child does not brush regularly or not well enough.
Taking Care Of A Child's Teeth
Start brushing teeth as soon as the first tooth appears, to start off right and establish good dental health habits. This will help your child prevent cavities for a lifetime.
Use a tiny amount of fluoride-free toothpaste for children younger than three (until they are able to predictably spit and not swallow the toothpaste), and then a pea-sized amount after that to prevent tooth decay. Teach your child to brush twice a day, as soon as they are old enough, supervising the brushing carefully. Molars are harder to reach and more likely to get missed.
Most municipalities add fluoride to tap water; if not, or if your child does not drink tap water, ask your child’s dentist about fluoride supplementation.
Limit snacks and sugar intake, and ensure your child’s diet is healthy, with lots of vegetables, whole grains, and calcium-rich foods.
Tooth Decay In Baby Teeth
People of all ages can get cavities, but cavities in children’s teeth form faster than they do in permanent teeth. Tooth decay happens as early as age three. If your child brushes and flosses regularly, it will help in preventing tooth decay, but if decay occurs, it needs to be treated.
Many people think that cavities in children that still have baby teeth are not a concern, as baby teeth are not permanent. However, the decay can progress and spread. Decayed baby teeth may fall out prematurely or need to be removed and can negatively impact the development of permanent teeth. The permanent teeth can grow in improperly, and other oral health concerns may evolve.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
A common cause of tooth decay in babies is when they are allowed to suck on bottles filled with milk or juice for an extended period. This issue is particularly noticeable if a baby is put to sleep with a bottle, so the sugars are allowed to sit on the baby’s teeth overnight. This also is known as bottle rot.
To avoid this, don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle, and don’t dip a pacifier in honey or sugary drinks.
Symptoms To Watch For
In the earliest stages, chalky white spots appear on the teeth, from plaque and a lack of calcium that is causing the enamel to demineralize and break down. As demineralization continues, the enamel is more damaged, and light brown spots will show, which will gradually get darker. Your child’s teeth may become painful, and gums will become inflamed. Your child will have difficulty chewing, and may experience headaches and soreness in the jaw. The tooth will start to be sensitive to temperature.
The decay will progress into the tooth, or dentin, causing a cavity, which needs to be treated and filled. The tooth will be in constant pain at this stage, and the spots will be a deep brown or black.
If the tooth is left untreated, decay spreads further into the tissues or pulp of the tooth, causing abscesses, and requiring a root canal treatment, to save the tooth.
Regular Dental Checkups
Your child should start going to a pediatric dentist after about six months, or when the first tooth arrives. This will let the dentist spot any early signs of issues. However, whether or not dental decay is found, visiting the dentist regularly, every six months, is recommended. Regular cleanings and checkups are an important part of stopping the tooth decay process and maintaining oral health. Professional cleaning and care prevents the spread of plaque and risks of dental decay.
Your dentist may apply dental sealants to help prevent cavities, especially around the molars that have pits and are hard to reach for young children.
Dentistry on Wellington provides pediatric dentistry, to take care of your child’s mouth and teeth, offering preventive care for long term oral health. We care about your child’s teeth, and offer a friendly, comfortable environment if your child is nervous.