How to Spot Cavities in Your Child: A Parent’s Guide

Apr 8, 2024 | Patient Tips

Parenthood can feel like a juggling act, especially when it comes to keeping children healthy and safe. At Topping Dental Group, we understand the challenges parents face. Our dedicated dental team is committed to supporting families in maintaining optimal oral health and hygiene.

Cavities, though common in children, can adversely affect dental health if left untreated. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the causes, prevention, and treatment of cavities in children. Discover how to identify signs of cavities in your child, manage discomfort, and understand the importance of regular dental care. 

What Causes Cavities in Kids? 

Tooth decay occurs when the hard outer surface of a tooth, known as enamel, breaks down. This deterioration leads to cavities, which are small holes in the teeth. Cavities can worsen, if left untreated, penetrating deep within a tooth and reaching the nerve endings, resulting in pain and sensitivity.

Primarily caused by bacteria, tooth decay is often triggered when foods containing carbohydrates, such as sugars and starches, remain on the teeth. Common culprits include milk, soda, raisins, candy, cake, fruit juices, cereals, and bread. When bacteria in the mouth metabolize these foods, they produce acids. These acids, combined with saliva, form plaque, a sticky substance that adheres to the teeth. Over time, the acidic environment created by the bacteria erodes the tooth enamel, leading to the development of cavities.

As all children have bacteria in their mouths, they are susceptible to tooth decay. However, certain factors elevate a child’s risk:

  • Diet high in sugar and starches
  • Frequent snacking
  • Water supply with limited or no fluoride
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Less saliva flow than normal (dry mouth)

How to Prevent Cavities in Kids

Take proactive steps to prevent tooth decay in your child by following these simple guidelines:

  • Commence brushing your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth emerges. Brush thoroughly for 2 minutes twice a day, covering the teeth, tongue, and gums using a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Supervise oral hygiene until the child is at least 7 years old. Take turns helping your child brush and floss using the proper technique and coverage.
  • For children under 3 years old, use only a small amount of toothpaste, roughly the size of a grain of rice. From the age of 3 onwards, your child can use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste.
  • Incorporate daily flossing into your child’s oral hygiene routine once they reach the age of 2.
  • Ensure your child maintains a well-balanced diet, limiting sticky and sugary snacks, such as chips, candy, cookies, cake, and soda.
  • Prevent the transmission of bacteria from your mouth to your child’s by avoiding the sharing of eating utensils and refraining from cleaning your baby’s pacifier with your saliva.
  • If your child requires a bottle at bedtime, fill it only with water. Juices and formula contain sugars that contribute to tooth decay.
  • Consult with your child’s healthcare provider or dentist regarding the use of fluoride supplements, especially if you reside in an area without fluoridated water. Additionally, inquire about dental sealants and fluoride varnish applications, both of which offer added protection for the teeth.
  • Schedule regular dental cleanings and examinations for your child every 6 months to maintain optimal oral health.

How Can You Tell If Your Child Has a Cavity? Spot the signs.

Here are signs to look out for that may indicate your child has a cavity:

  • Tooth Sensitivity: Take note if your child complains of pain or sensitivity when consuming hot, cold, or sweet foods. This discomfort could signal the presence of a cavity.
  • Visible Changes: Inspect your child’s teeth for any visible signs of decay, including black, brown, or white spots, or noticeable holes.
  • Bad Breath: Persistent bad breath, despite regular brushing, might indicate tooth decay.
  • Complaints of Pain: If your child experiences unexplained pain or discomfort in their mouth, it could be related to cavities.
  • Changes in Eating Habits: Notice any changes in your child’s eating habits, such as avoiding certain foods or favoring one side of the mouth while chewing. These changes could suggest underlying dental issues, like cavities.

The symptoms of tooth decay and cavities vary from child to child. Cavities don’t always cause symptoms. Sometimes children don’t know they have a cavity until their dentist finds it. This is why routine dental care is essential.

What to Do if My Kid Has a Cavity?

If you suspect your child has a cavity, promptly schedule an appointment with a local pediatric dentist. Early detection and treatment are key to preventing further damage and relieving any discomfort your child might be experiencing.

During the appointment, the dentist will conduct a thorough examination, possibly using X-rays to assess the extent of the cavity. 

The treatment plan will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, oral hygiene, and general health, as well as the severity of the condition. Some early tooth decay can be managed with conservative methods such as removal of plaque, cleansing the dental decay, remineralizing the teeth, use of supplemental fluoride, and dental sealants.

In many cases, cavity treatment includes dental fillings, crowns, or other interventions, depending on the severity of the cavity. Dentists remove the decayed part of the tooth and replace it with a filling. Fillings, also called restorations, are materials placed in teeth to repair damage caused by tooth decay.

Do You Need to Treat Cavities in Baby Teeth?

While cavities in baby teeth might seem less critical, prompt treatment is necessary to prevent complications. Children with baby teeth are at a greater risk for cavities for two reasons:

  1. Baby teeth have thinner enamel, making them more vulnerable to decay. 
  2. Children don’t usually have the fine motor function to brush and floss thoroughly, resulting in impaired oral hygiene.

Children are more susceptible to tooth decay due to thinner enamel and impaired oral hygiene, underscoring the importance of supervised brushing and flossing routines. Cavities develop faster in baby teeth and, without intervention, can rapidly progress into dangerous dental infections. 

It’s important to establish care with a dentist before permanent teeth have emerged to manage plaque buildup and support oral hygiene. Regular dental care can prevent cavities and lead to more conservative treatment overall. 

Why Family Dentists and Routine Dental Visits Are Important

Having a dentist who understands your child’s dental history and needs is like having a trusted friend. Routine dental check-ups, scheduled every six months, play an important role in cavity prevention and early issue detection. Remember, regular cleanings and examinations are key to diagnosing cavities early, when they are small and easy to treat. At Topping Dental Group, we prioritize gentle, conservative care, especially for children.

Parents can recognize the signs of cavities and take prompt action to help prevent pain and complications. By prioritizing routine dental visits and proactive oral care practices, parents can promote healthy smiles and instill lifelong dental hygiene habits. When in doubt, always consult with a dental professional for guidance and support.

Holly’s Trip to The Dentist: A Tale of a Brave Smile

Are you gearing up for a dentist visit with your little one? Don’t miss our next post where we share a story designed especially for kids who might feel a bit nervous about visiting the dentist to have a cavity filled.  “Holly’s Trip to The Dentist: A Tale of a Brave Smile” invites you and your child on an ordinary adventure, where bravery, friendship, and a sprinkle of dental magic await! 

Schedule Your Next Dentist Appointment

Looking for a dentist in Elkhart county? Contact any one of our three offices today to schedule your next appointment.

Call Topping Dental Group, Nappanee Dentist(574) 773-9700

Call Topping Dental Group, Elkhart Dentist(574) 848-7487

Call Topping Dental Group, Middlebury Dentist(574) 825-1252