Parents of young kids often wonder, “What do I do if my child has tooth decay?” and “How can I prevent my child from developing cavities?”
Childhood tooth decay, also known as early childhood caries, can lead to serious complications like cavities, a need for extractions, gum disease, and even infections.
We’ll cover the signs of childhood tooth decay, as well as the causes, treatment options, and the best steps for prevention.
Signs of Tooth Decay
The most common signs of tooth decay in children include:
- Small white or brown spots on your child’s teeth
- Cavities or holes in teeth
- Tooth pain or trouble chewing
- Chipped or broken teeth
- A dull white line along the gum line
- Red or inflamed gums
- Abscesses in the gums (in cases of infection)
- Fever (in cases of infection)
Causes of Tooth Decay
In general, kids who are experiencing tooth decay have the following causes to blame:
- Falling asleep with a sippy cup or bottle
- Poor diet
- Lack of proper oral hygiene
- Poor tooth enamel
- Certain medications
Treatment of Tooth Decay
There are a few treatments your child’s doctor or dentist may recommend for tooth decay, including:
- Silver nitrate – Silver nitrate disinfects and treats the affected area, stopping the decay process without drills or injections. This is becoming increasingly common in pediatric patients as an alternative to filings or extractions, especially on baby teeth.
- Fluoride varnish – Similarly, fluoride varnish can help prevent tooth decay, slow it down, or keep it from getting worse. It works by strengthening your child’s tooth enamel, which protects from decay.
- Fillings – Depending on the age of their child and the length of time until their adult teeth come in, your dentist may or may not recommend filling a cavity on a baby tooth.
- Extractions – In some cases, it may make more sense to go ahead and extract the affected tooth, especially if it is a baby tooth that is going to fall out soon.
- Improved oral hygiene – Sometimes, small areas of tooth decay can be treated with a “wait and see” approach as long as parents are updated and educated on proper oral hygiene procedures. Treatment could include increased tooth brushing, flossing, and changes in dietary habits, such as not drinking from a bottle or sippy cup at night.
In the case of an infection, antibiotics will likely also be prescribed.
Prevention of Tooth Decay
The most important thing parents can do to prevent the formation of tooth decay is to encourage proper oral hygiene in their kids. At any age, this includes:
- Frequent brushing – Kids should be brushing their teeth at least twice a day – ideally in the morning and again at night. Children younger than 6 should be assisted, and children between the ages of 6 and 8 should be supervised until parents are confident that they can independently manage their oral hygiene.
- Flossing – Cleaning between your child’s teeth is important too. Kids as young as 6 can be taught to floss with flossing trainers, or you can do it for them beginning around the age of 2.
- Mouthwash – While not a substitute for regular brushing and flossing, the use of mouthwash can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. The American Dental Association recommends waiting until kids are at least 6 years old.
- Avoiding sugary culprits – Candy, sodas, and fruit juices are some of the worst offenders. Parents should especially take care to avoid giving fruit juice or other drinks right before bedtime. Even babies and toddlers can experience tooth decay caused by poor bedtime habits like falling asleep with a bottle or sippy cup.
- Regular dental visits – Kids should be encouraged to develop proper oral hygiene habits with regular dental visits. Most dentists recommend a checkup and cleaning at least once every 6 to 12 months.
If your child is experiencing tooth decay, please schedule an office visit to speak with one of our pediatricians about proper oral hygiene and diet or call your child’s dentist for an appointment.