We know we’ve said it before but we’re saying it again, baby teeth are super important! Though it might not seem like these adorable, little, temporary teeth are all that susceptible to tooth decay, they are and teeth are at risk even before kiddos are introduced to the joys of candy and sugary treats. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay is one of the leading chronic conditions in childhood in the United States. In fact, about 20% of kids between the ages of five and 11 have at least one untreated cavity. Yikes! Well, the good news is, tooth decay in children is preventable and we’re sharing what you need to know about kids and cavities.
What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay, also known as cavities or caries, is the destruction of the structure of the tooth. When the acids from plaque break down the tooth’s enamel by depleting calcium, holes can form and these holes are, you guessed it, cavities.
What are the Causes of Tooth Decay in Children?
Cavities in children start with the bacteria in the mouth. Where does the bacteria come from? Well, this might be a shocker but we often get these specific cavity-causing germs, which come from a group called mutans streptococcus, from our parents before the age of two. But, before you blame yourself, the vast majority of people’s mouths become colonized with the bacteria at some point. Anyway, the bacteria love carbohydrates (sugar and starches) and they snack on the carbs after a child eats or drinks something and a reaction occurs that produces acids. The acids are what deplete the tooth of minerals (demineralization) and mingle with saliva to form plaque, which sticks to the teeth. Over time, the acid eats away at the tooth enamel and causes cavities like we mentioned earlier. As you can see, every child is at risk for tooth decay but these factors can make the risk even greater:
- Eating and drinking lots of sugary treats and starches
- Little or no fluoride in your water supply
- Not brushing and flossing regularly
- High levels of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth
- Decreased saliva flow (can be the result of dehydration, mouth breathing, allergies or asthma, or certain medications)
What are the Signs of Cavities in Children?
Sometimes, a child will have a cavity but won’t exhibit any signs or symptoms. That’s why the best way to determine if a child has tooth decay – and to prevent it from happening at all – is to see a pediatric dentist. However, in general, here are some signs of tooth decay in children to look for:
- White spots on the teeth, which is an indication that the enamel may be breaking down.
- Brown or black spots on the teeth.
- Sensitivity to sweet or cold foods and drinks.
- Pain around a tooth (it’s often hard for a parent to detect cavities in toddlers or babies because they can’t verbalize that their tooth hurts but an older child can tell you outright they’re in pain)
What are a Child’s Tooth Decay Treatment Options?
When your child comes into our Denver or Englewood pediatric dental office, we examine their mouth, chat with you about their history and risk factors and, if necessary, take low-dose, digital x-rays so we can see inside and in between the teeth. Using this information, we’re able to diagnose cavities in kids. If we do find cavities, common child tooth decay treatment options include:
- Taking a preventative approach in the earliest stages. Sometimes, we can catch emerging decay before an actual cavity has formed and promote remineralization instead of opting for a restorative treatment.
- Removing decay and restoring the tooth with a composite filling. We use Herculite composite resin. It’s one of the strongest composites on the market and we match it to your child’s tooth color so it’s undetectable.
- Performing a baby root canal, known as a pulpotomy or pulp therapy, in severe cases where decay has led to infection. A root canal can save the tooth and then we’re able to restore it with a NuSmile Zirconia crown. These crowns look completely realistic, are metal-free and very durable.
At Kids Mile High Pediatric Dentistry, we are all about making visits – even if they’re for restorative treatment – a positive experience for parents and kids alike. We’ll sit down with you and explain your child’s diagnosis and present you with your treatment options. We have some pretty high-tech tools, including the WaterLase MD and WaterLase iPlus lasers. So, in many cases, we can painlessly remove decay without a drill or even the need for shots. Additionally, Dr. Paddy and Dr. Roger are both experts in sedation dentistry for children. We’ll work with you to find a solution that ensures your child gets the care they need in a way that’s stress-free for both of you.
Preventing Tooth Decay in Children
As promised, on to the good news! Preventing tooth decay in children is absolutely possible. Here are some ways you can do just that:
- Make sure your child flosses at least once daily as soon as any two teeth are touching and brushes twice a day for two minutes each brushing session once the first tooth erupts. Start off with a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste and then increase it to a pea-sized amount when they turn three. Brush for them when they’re infants and toddlers and then be sure to monitor their brushing until they’re about seven- or eight-years-old.
- Talk with your pediatric dentist about your child’s fluoride intake. Fluoride is essential for keeping kids’ teeth strong. If you don’t have fluoride in your water or your child only drinks bottled water, ask your dentist or pediatrician about fluoride supplements. They may also recommend adding a fluoride mouthwash to your child’s oral hygiene routine. Professional fluoride treatments, like the ones we offer at Kids Mile High, are beneficial too.
- Encourage your little one to eat a well-balanced diet and limit sugary beverages, sweets and starchy foods like white bread and potato chips. We’re not saying you have to have a sugar-free household but enjoying treats in moderation will go a long way in preventing tooth decay in children.
- Don’t put babies to bed with a bottle that contains anything other than water. Since even breast milk and formula contain sugars, it can lead to baby bottle tooth decay. Finish feedings before they doze off and consider wiping down their gums with a moist piece of gauze before putting them down.
- Stick with small amounts of 100% fruit juice that has no sugar added if you want to give your child juice. Don’t let them have it in a sippy cup to slowly drink throughout the day. Instead, offer it only at a meal or a snack so their teeth aren’t constantly bathed in sugar.
- Consider sealants. We use BPA-free sealants on the chewing surfaces of kids’ teeth. They’ve been shown to be extremely effective in preventing tooth decay since they act as a barrier and keep food, acid and bacteria from settling into the pits and grooves of the teeth.
- Come in for regular check-ups and cleanings at your pediatric dentist. Not only can we find cavities early on when treatment is easier; we can also help you develop a stellar homecare routine.
We hope our guide to cavities in children can help you give your kiddo the oral hygiene knowledge and tools they need to ward off tooth decay. Remember, prevention is the best form of dentistry and it starts with a checkup! Book your child’s visit with an Englewood or Denver pediatric dentist at Kids Mile High today!