Parents often assume that kids develop cavities due to not brushing and flossing. Many parents also know how important flouride in water helps teeth. However, what few parents know is that dental caries (cavities) are caused by bacteria that produce acids in the presence of sugar. These germs (bacteria) spread easily within families, and can last a lifetime. The acid acids produced by these germs erode the tooth's enamel (hard surface layer). Plaque is the sticky substance that contains these bacteria. Over time, tooth decay can cause cavities (holes) in the tooth’s enamel. If untreated, cavities become larger and destroy the tooth.
Children should visit the dentist consistently (every 6 months) for cleanings and routine check ups to prevent and stay ahead of problems like tooth decay (cavities), which can over time, cause not only painful associated dental symptoms but also consequential health problems. If treated quickly, the detrimental effects of dental decay in children may be reversible. Treatment for tooth decay varies based on the child’s particular situation and the advancement or magnitude of his or her decay.
Tooth Decay (Cavities) Explained
Cavities, formally termed caries or tooth decay, are pits/holes in the hard outer enamel layer of the teeth. How deep a cavity eats into the tooth depends on how long a child goes from the development of the decay until receiving restorative treatment. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), tooth decay is the second-most common health disorder in the United States, following the common cold. Cavities typically occur in children and young adults, but anyone can develop tooth decay.
Dental caries is typically the product of multiple factors. The two main causes however, include an increased amount of bacteria in the mouth combined with a diet high in starches and sugars. It is completely normal to have bacteria in the mouth; trouble occurs when poor oral hygiene exists. When a child or person of any age does not take adequate care of their teeth and gums, which typically consists of brushing the teeth twice a day and flossing once daily, the mouth’s natural bacteria mix with food particles and saliva to form plaque. Plaque is an invisible adherent substance that, if left on the teeth for more than a few days, hardens into a substance called tartar becoming much more difficult to remove. Cavities materialize when bacteria in tartar and plaque transmute sugar into an acid that eats through the enamel of the tooth and forms a hole. After the enamel is eroded, the acid can wear down the deeper layers of the tooth, potentially all the way to the root.
The NIH states that dental decay is found most often in areas that are more difficult to clean and where plaque is more prevalent, like between teeth, around the gum line, on the molars, and at the edge of previous fillings. Cavities are a frequent cause of tooth loss in young children, so it is extremely important to take all preventive measures possible and seek treatment immediately for any potentially formed decay.
Signs and Symptoms Of Tooth Decay
Often, no symptoms to denote the beginning of dental decay seem to occur. This is why proper dental hygiene, regular check ups, and professional cleanings as recommended are so important to consistently keep up with.
If a child does experience symptoms, they might include:
- Sensitivity to hot and cold drinks or foods.
- General tooth pain.
- ‘Chalky’ white or discolored spots on tooth.
- Brown or black spots on tooth.
- Sensitivity to sweet/sugary foods.
- Sensitivity to biting pressure.
- Bad breath or consistent bad taste in mouth.
Risk Factors For Cavities
Children who may be at an increased the risk for developing tooth decay:
- Consistently consume high amounts of carbonated and sugar drinks.
- Consistently consume large amounts of sticky sugary foods like candy.
- Live in areas where drinking water is not fluoridated.
- Do not brush teeth twice daily and floss daily.
- Take medications or have a disease that decreases salivary flow.
- May be undergoing radiation therapy.
Read about Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) Treatment In Children by Dr. Girdlestone, Pediatric Dental Specialist.
To schedule an appointment with our pediatric dentist, Dr. Steve Girdlestone, please phone 330-491-7777.