Tooth decay is the most prevalent childhood disease.

Nobody wants to hear that they have tooth decay. But, especially problematic is when your kid’s dentist says your child has tooth decay or cavities. Many parents often underestimate the need for proper oral care in children, especially when those baby teeth start to fall out around age six or seven. Plus, isn’t tooth decay just something adults need to deal with?

The truth is that tooth decay is one of the most common childhood illnesses. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of children between the ages of six and eight have had a cavity in at least one of their baby (primary) teeth. If that statistic wasn’t alarming enough, what if you learned that tooth decay could also stunt your child’s growth?

Causes of Tooth Decay in Children

In general, tooth decay is caused by bad bacteria in the mouth. When foods such as sugars and starches are left on the teeth, they can turn into bacteria. Typical culprits include candy, cake, cereals, bread, milk, soda, and fruit juices. The combination of these bad bacteria and the natural acids and saliva in the mouth manifests into dental plaque that sticks to the teeth. When this plaque is left on the teeth for too long, it hardens into tartar, otherwise known as dental calculus. And this, in turn, can lead to cavities.

Though all children have this bacteria in their mouths, some children are more at risk for developing tooth decay than others. Parents should be mindful of the following factors that can increase a child’s chances of developing tooth decay and, ultimately, a cavity:

  • A diet high in sugars and starches.
  • A lack of fluoride in your child’s drinking water.
  • Bad oral hygiene.
  • Less saliva flow than normal.
  • High levels of bacteria in the mouth.

Unfortunately, when tooth decay is present, it can often mean a toothache for your child. And toothaches are no fun.

Tooth decay can stunt your child’s growth.

Okay, so now we have your attention. Tooth decay can mean a cavity that your kid’s dentist must treat, but your child may also be experiencing a toothache. Aside from the pain and discomfort, toothaches can impede vital activities, such as eating, sleeping, playing, speaking, and even learning.

Think of the last time you had a toothache, and the chances are pretty high that you have experienced one at least once in your lifetime. In fact, according to the CDC, over 40% of adults report having felt pain in their mouth within the last year, and more than 80% of people will have had at least one cavity by age 34. That tooth pain is hard to ignore. You may have had trouble concentrating at work. You may have been more likely to lose your patience with your children. And you probably had trouble sleeping since tooth pain can be all-consuming. So imagine what tooth pain and toothache mean for your child?

Your children, especially those under age eight, are in their most formative years. This means that they are actively experiencing cognitive (intellectual), social, emotional, and physical development. To actively experience these things, children need proper nutrition, a good night’s sleep, and an appropriate daily routine. But a toothache can disrupt all of these things—their ability to eat, sleep, and concentrate. The longer that tooth decay and correlating toothache is left untreated, the more critical learning time that they miss out on.

4 Signs and Symptoms of Tooth Decay

So, if you are a parent, you might wonder how you would know if your child had tooth decay. Aside from the apparent toothache, there are other signs to look for.

  • Tooth sensitivity: Is your child wincing or showing signs of discomfort or pain when consuming something hot, cold, or sweet?
  • Spots: At bedtime after your child brushes, flosses, and rinses with a child-safe mouthwash, take a peek in their mouth for gray, brown, or black spots on their teeth.
  • Halitosis: Does your child have bad breath?
  • Unpleasant taste: Though it might be harder for your child to articulate this, pay attention to their facial expressions when they aren’t eating or drinking. Look for signs of discomfort or that something feels off in their mouth, which could indicate their mouth has a funny taste that they don’t normally experience.

If your child is showing any of these signs or if they haven’t been in for a dental cleaning and oral examination in the last six months, it is time to request an appointment with their kids’ dentist.

6 Steps for Preventing Tooth Decay in Your Child

Though there are certain scenarios where tooth decay just “happens,” there are things that you can do to lessen your child’s risk of developing it in the first place. And that all starts at home with a good oral hygiene routine.

1. Daily Brushing

Have your child brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes at a time using a soft-bristled toothbrush. Most children are responsible enough and have the manual dexterity to brush their teeth by around age six. However, if your child doesn’t yet seem to have the discipline to do it independently, it is better to help them through it than skip brushing altogether. The best time to brush is after breakfast and before bed.

2. Correct Flossing

Help your child floss their teeth every night before bed or after meals if they have been eating something that might get stuck between them. Typical culprits include popcorn, sticky candies, meat, and crackers. Show your child the importance of getting the floss between all their teeth, and not just the ones in front.

3. Gargle and Swish

Show your child how to gargle, swish, and rinse with a child-safe mouthwash. Most kids are ready to swish and rinse by age six, though the gargling might come later. Have your child use mouthwash after flossing to help rinse away those loosened food particles.

4. Tooth-Friendly Foods

Stick to tooth-friendly foods and snacks at home. The good news is that most tooth-friendly foods are great for their body too. From tooth-friendly summer treats to tartar-free holiday snacks the dentist would approve of, there are plenty of tasty options for everyone. Be sure to limit your child’s sugar intake and consumption of starches, too, as they are the main culprits for plaque buildup.

5. Regular checkups

Take your child to the dentist every six months, starting around their first birthday, for a dental cleaning and oral examination. Though you can remove most pesky plaque with proper brushing, only a dental professional can remove stuck-on tartar.

6. Preventive Sealants

At your child’s appointment, ask if they are a candidate for dental sealants, which can help reduce their risk of developing future cavities.

Request an appointment with Tomasik Family Dental today.

Whether your child requires dental treatment, you are looking for a dental home for your family, or you have questions about children’s cavities, we’re here to help. Tomasik Family Dental in Bee Cave, Texas, are experts in children’s dentistry. Request an appointment for your child with Tomasik Family Dental today.

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