Q: Why is my child getting cavities?
A: As a pediatric dentist, I see multiple patients in my office that are experiencing cavities. This is very concerning since childhood cavities can lead to pain, difficulty eating and if not treated, can negatively affect the permanent teeth. To appropriately answer the question of why a child is getting cavities, one must first understand what causes cavities to form.
To start, the process of tooth decay is actually called dental caries. A “cavity” is the hole or cavity that is formed on a tooth affected by dental caries. Dental caries is a very complex process.
There are many types of bacteria that occur naturally in our mouths. Almost 90% of humans have a
certain type of bacteria that is responsible for cavities. These specific bacteria live primarily in a sticky
film on and around the teeth called dental plaque. These bacteria love to eat sugar. As they eat and
digest sugar, the bacteria give off the acid. This acid can dissolve the minerals on the hard outer surface of the tooth. Prolonged exposure to these acids can result in a cavity.
If a child has a cavity it is usually from either not removing the bacteria sufficiently from the teeth or
from feeding the bacteria excessive amounts of sugar. The bacteria and plaque can be removed by
adequate brushing and flossing. Limiting the frequency of sugary foods and drinks can allow the body to neutralize the acids that are formed from caries.
Here are a few tips on preventing cavities:
Never allow a child to sleep with a bottle or sippy cup containing a sugary substance. (This includes milk and diluted juice)
Assist your child with brushing until the age of 6
Start brushing the teeth as soon as the first one appears
Start flossing daily by age 3
Limit sticky sugary substances (fruit snacks, raisins, etc.)
Only allow candy on a limited basis
Take your child to the dentist when they are 12 months old.
Visit your dentist regularly
There are many other components to the caries process and the prevention of cavities such as fluoride and sealants. A dentist will work with each patient and individualize a prevention plan that is best for you and your child.