Cavities are usually the one major concern that most parents have when their kids visit the dentist. Every child loves to declare ‘no cavities!’ after their dental checkup and this can be a moment of pride for both child and parent. However, cavities are a fact of life for many children. If the dentist discovers a cavity during your child’s dental checkup, there is no reason to panic as they can usually be dealt with quickly and without pain. Let’s take a look at some basics about cavities and children’s teeth.
What causes cavities?
A child cavity does not appear overnight. They are the result of the process of tooth decay. The food that your child eats can contribute to tooth decay if it is excessively full of sugar, eaten right before bedtime, and if your child does not brush thoroughly at least twice a day and floss once at night.
In terms of foods, it is important to know that the normal bacteria that exists in your child’s mouth consumes the sugars left on the teeth from food that contains carbohydrates and produces acid that can cause erosion on teeth. This erosion leads to decay and an eventual hole or pit in the tooth – a cavity – if it is allowed to continue. Decay affects two parts of the tooth: the enamel on the outside, and the inner layer as well (known as dentin).
Night Time Brushing is Important
This is why brushing before bedtime is so important. If food is left on the teeth overnight, it allows this bacteria, known as streptococcus mutans, to consume the sugars overnight and produce the acid that can eat away at the teeth until the next brushing occurs.
Besides brushing before bedtime, make sure to avoid feeding kids sugary drinks or food right before bedtime. This includes formula and breastmilk, as these two liquids contain sugar.
How do I know if my child has a cavity?
The best way to determine the presence of a cavity is during a regular dental checkup. A pediatric dentist will ask questions regarding your child’s diet and dental hygiene, examine the teeth for any soft spots or visual signs of a cavity, and also use x-rays to do a more thorough check between the teeth where a visual examination cannot occur.
In terms of x-rays, parents should know that x-rays are used since some cavities can remain undetected as they are not painful and are not readily visible to the naked eye. Some cavities can also remain undetected even though an x-ray was used. This is usually because the cavity is very small. These scenarios show why regular checkups are important as these small cavities can grow between checkups. If you don’t visit the dentist regularly, small cavities can grow into larger ones without being diagnosed and treated properly.
Other signs of a cavity include a toothache or if you see what appears to be a hole or deep pit in your child’s teeth. If you ever suspect that your child has a cavity, it is best to visit a dentist for an examination.
What should parents do if their child has a cavity?
Once your child has a cavity, it is important to have it filled. The most common treatment is for the dentist to remove the affected part of the tooth and fill it. Fillings come in a variety of options and are completely safe according to the United States Food and Drug Administration. Fillings have actually been used for at least 150 years as a strong and durable treatment for cavities.
Some parents think that cavities require the tooth to be removed. This is not true. Tooth extraction is only a last resort and occurs if the cavity is untreatable with a filling. This is why regular dental checkups are important as they allow the pediatric dentist to diagnose cavities before they become too large and lead to further problems.
How can you prevent cavities in children’s teeth?
As mentioned above, it is important to avoid giving your child sugary liquids before bedtime. Try water at bedtime if your child is thirsty. If you must give formula, milk or juice, try watering it down to reduce the sugar content.
For babies that breastfeed or receive formula before bedtime, wipe their gums with a cloth before putting them to bed. For children with teeth, brush before bedtime to remove those harmful sugars that can sit on the teeth overnight and lead to decay.
Finally, regular cleanings at the dentist help to keep teeth healthy and cavity free.
What about dental sealants?
If your child has recurring cases of cavities, dental sealants might be a solution to protect the teeth from further damage. Ask your pediatric dentist about preventing childhood tooth decay and cavities during your checkup and if your child is at risk for further cavities, ask about dental sealants.
Dental sealants are simply a preventative measure that works to prevent further decay and cavities from occurring. Comprised of a liquid resin that is simply coated onto the teeth and then allowed to harden, dental sealants form a protective layer on at-risk teeth (usually the back teeth) in order to help prevent cavities.
Dental sealants don’t hurt and are not a complicated treatment. Since the resin is clear, they are also not noticeable and won’t affect your child’s smile or appearance in any way. Painless and long lasting, dental sealants have a long and proven history of use in pediatric dentistry as an effective treatment against tooth decay.
Cavity free childhood
Every parent should aim to let their children experience a cavity-free childhood. With a combination of good diet, regular dental checkups and a strong, daily oral hygiene routine, your child can have strong and healthy teeth and will leave the dentist feeling proud of their cavity-free checkup.
Remember, the health of your child’s teeth is a combined effort between parent and child. Reinforcing good dental hygiene habits in your child during their early years will lay the foundation for strong dental health for the rest of their lives.