Children’s Cavities

Children’s cavities are a far more common dental issue than you might think. Cavities, also known as tooth decay or dental caries, can develop at any time, including in early childhood.

When cavities happen to a child’s baby teeth, parents often make the mistake of ignoring them since baby teeth are not permanent teeth. Since baby teeth eventually falls off, they think having a cavity in baby teeth will not be so bad.

But this is a dangerous mistake. You should never shrug off a cavity – even if it is in baby teeth. Dental cavities affect not only the teeth but the gums and the mouth as well. If ignored, it can lead to severe infection and pain.

Here, we discuss what causes cavities, what treatment options are available, and anything else you need to know about tooth decay.

What are cavities

A cavity, also known as tooth decay, is a hole in the tooth that happens when bacteria and sugar in the mouth create an acid. This acid with saliva turns into dental plaque and eventually eats away at the hard outer layer of the tooth called the enamel.

The damage is permanent and irreversible. Since bacteria are naturally present inside our mouth, anyone can get a cavity but this can be prevented with proper oral hygiene, a balanced diet, and regular dentist visits.

Is treatment necessary even for baby teeth?

Baby teeth eventually fall out on their own someday. But it does not mean that you should tolerate cavities in them.

Take note that kids usually lose their baby teeth at around six years old. If the cavities happen way before that, they can do a lot of damage.

Untreated cavities lead to more cavities. It is an infection that spreads. This is precisely why you have to treat them right away – especially if they already have permanent teeth growing.

Treating cavities in baby teeth is still worth it because the damage cavities can do may affect your child’s chewing habits and speech. This is something they can carry on even when the permanent teeth grow out.

Cavities can also affect your gums and your overall oral health which can lead to more dental issues in the future.

What causes cavities in children?

Cavities are very common and they can be caused by different things. Here are some of the most common causes of cavities in children.

Bacteria exposure

As mentioned earlier, bacteria is naturally present in the child’s mouth. There are also instances when saliva is shared like when a parent tests a drink or food first before feeding it to their kids.

Poor diet

A diet high in sugars and starches makes a child’s teeth more vulnerable to cavities. Once the sugar and carbohydrates mix in with the bacteria in the child’s mouth, they turn into the cavity-forming acid.

Food like candy, cookies, juices, chips, crackers, white bread, and sticky foods should be eaten in moderation. You can also make sure they brush their teeth right after their meal or snack to help lessen the chances of bacteria to produce acid and prevent tooth decay.

Poor oral hygiene

Dental hygiene is important – even for baby teeth! Just because their teeth are not permanent does not mean they should not take good care of them. Even babies are recommended to start doing dental care at an early age once teeth show up.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that children should start brushing their teeth twice a day for two minutes, ideally after breakfast and before going to sleep. Children, like adults, are recommended to do two professional dental cleanings each year.


Sometimes, even if children are religiously taking care of their teeth, they still become prone to cavities. This is more likely caused by their genes. If you have poor tooth structure or are vulnerable to bacteria, you may have passed it down to your kids.

Signs and symptoms of children’s cavities

Cavities are very tricky to spot on your own. Most of the time, they are not noticeable until it is too late. But there are ways to help you detect if your child has a cavity.

  • Toothache
  • White or dark spots on teeth
  • Darkening of the tooth or a light brown color on the tooth
  • A hole in the tooth
  • Tooth sensitivity to cold foods and sweets
  • Pain when chewing
  • Swelling in the mouth
  • Lethargy

If your child have these signs, it is important to make an appointment with your child’s dentist right away so that you can still save the tooth.

Cavity treatment options for your child’s teeth

As mentioned earlier, the damage done by cavities is permanent and irreversible. Therefore, treatment is just to make sure that the damage is controlled and won’t get worst.

If your child has a cavity, the dental treatment will vary depending on your child’s age, symptoms, general health, and of course, the extent of the damage. Below are the common cavity treatment options that dentists turn to when dealing with children’s cavities.

Fluoride varnish

If the dental caries is just starting to form, the dentist can prevent any further damage by doing a fluoride varnish. Here, a solution with a high concentration of fluoride will be applied to your child’s teeth to help repair the tooth enamel and stop the damage from getting worst.

Dental fillings

A typical cavity is usually treated with a dental filling. Here, the tooth decay is removed with a small drill. Then, the hole is filled with a resin or composite material to protect the tooth.

Dental crown

If your child has severe tooth decay, chances are it has already taken up a huge portion of the tooth, dentists would suggest a dental crown. Here, the decayed portion of the tooth will be removed and replaced with a crown.

Root canal

If the cavity is close to the nerve, the dentist will have to do a root canal. This means that the infection will have to be removed from deep inside the tooth, clean the area out, and then the dentist will go with a filling or a crown to finish up.

Tooth extraction

This is usually done as a last resort – in instances when the tooth can no longer be saved. This usually happens when the cavity is too big for a filling or a crown or when there is already severe infection under the tooth.

After extraction, a dental implant or dental bridge will be recommended to fill in the gap so that the remaining children’s teeth will not move into the space.

How to prevent cavities

Cavities may be common in children but they are also preventable. Here are some precautionary measures that you and your child can do to ensure that your child will not be developing cavities or tooth decay.

Supervised brushing

It helps to supervise your child when it is time to brush their teeth. Without supervision, children will be lax about brushing or end up skipping it.

Supervision also ensures that they are not swallowing the fluoridated toothpaste and that they are cleaning every part of their mouth properly.

Fluoride exposure

Studies have shown that fluoride helps prevent bacteria overgrowth in the mouth and will help mineralize the teeth. You can get this natural mineral from toothpaste or tap water.

You should get fluoride toothpaste so that your children will have an additional layer of protection on their teeth. Take note that children under the age of three should not use fluoride toothpaste yet.

Watch what they eat

Be more conscious about what your child eats. Start reading on healthier food alternatives to replace sugary drinks, starchy foods, and sugary foods on their diet. A healthy diet can go a long way – not just for your child’s teeth and mouth but also for their overall health and well-being.

Kids can be picky eaters and it may be hard to totally prevent them from consuming food that are unhealthy for their health. If this is the case, you can help lessen the child’s risk by making sure that they brush their teeth right away.

Regular pediatric dentistry visits

You must take your child to a dentist regularly to ensure that they grow up with good teeth. Professional cleanings can be done as early as 6 months of age.

Start them with a pediatric dentist until they are old enough to see your family dentist. Pediatric dentistry is a specialty and a pediatric dentist is better suited to cater to your child’s teeth and other dental needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do all children get tooth decay?

Cavities are very common in children. They are not only an adult problem. Most kids get one at some point but some can grow up without getting one because of good dental hygiene, a tooth-friendly diet, and seeing a dentist regularly.

Are cavity treatments painful?

Adults usually have fear or dental anxiety when seeing the dentist and the feeling is the same for kids.

But rest assured, the dentist will use local anesthesia to numb the area before they do treatments. General anesthesia will be applied for a child’s tooth extractions.
This way, your child will not be able to feel any major pain.

What if my child has a sweet tooth?

You do not have to totally deprive your kids of sweets. There are healthier alternatives to getting a sugar fix without compromising their dental health. Here are some examples:

Low glycemic fruits like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries


Trail mix


Frozen bananas

Cheese sticks

Unsweetened applesauce

Dried fruits with no sugar

Granola bars

Carrots and dip

If your kids do get their hands on sweet treats, make sure they brush their teeth right away after eating.

When should kids start seeing a dentist?

The American Dental Association recommends that children start getting their teeth checked by pediatric dentists as soon as they turn one. Then they should start seeing the dentist twice a year from then on.

Most parents think that this is too early but it is always best to spot dental issues early on and regular check-ups can prevent them from happening.

If the dentist sees that your child is prone to cavities and other dental problems, they will start applying topical fluoride on the teeth to give them protection.

Also, this will make your child get used to seeing pediatric dentists so that they won’t be able to develop fear or anxiety when it comes to doing dentist visits later.


Childhood cavities or dental caries are common so there is no need to panic if your kid has one. However, just because they are common does not mean you can shrug it off. The tooth decay process is an ugly one and it spreads.

Preventing tooth decay is a must if you want to your child’s teeth healthy. Healthy teeth means no need for expensive braces or other dental treatments in the future too!

Do preventive measures early to reduce the chances of cavities forming. If it is too late, see a dentist right away to save the child’s tooth. Remember, your children’s oral health is important for your child’s overall health and well-being.

Having a cavity-free childhood is possible with a combination of regular dental checkups, a good diet, and a great daily dental hygiene routine. Reinforcing this in your child early on will lay a strong foundation for your child’s teeth as they grow older.

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