Dental Caries in Children

Dental caries (cavities or decay) is very common in children. Dental caries are holes in teeth that can lead to tooth pain and potentially tooth loss.

As parents we want our children to have strong teeth and without unnecessary trips to the dentist.

Primary (baby) teeth are important for eating and help to guide the permanent (adult) teeth into position.

What causes dental caries?

The problem is caused by sticky deposits called plaque that collects, in particular, around the gum line, the edges of fillings and the grooved surfaces of the teeth.

Plaque is made up of food debris, saliva and the bacteria that are normally present in the mouth, and convert food into acids.

Plaque contains acids, which, over time, can dissolve away the protective, hard enamel coating of the tooth, and create holes, or cavities.

Most cavities form over a period of months, or even years.

They are usually painless, but they can grow very large, and damage the much softer internal structures of the tooth such as the dentin and the pulp, which often leads to pain.

Eating a diet high in sugar increases the risk of tooth decay, and sticky foods can be a particular problem because they are more likely to remain on the surface and between the teeth.

Frequent snacking also increases the amount of time that acids are in contact with the teeth.

In the absence of good oral hygiene, it doesn't take long for damage to begin. The acids generated by the breakdown of sugars in the mouth can begin to attack the tooth enamel within 20 minutes of a meal.

Can I prevent my child from getting tooth decay?

The best way to keep your teeth in health condition is to ensure that you have a healthy diet without large amounts of sugars and that you clean your teeth regularly to get rid of any plaque build up.

There are many “hidden sugars” in foods and it is important to read the information labels. Juices, cordials, fizzy drinks, sports drinks, muesli and fruit bars, honey, jam, sweet biscuits and lollies should only be given occasionally.

Remember that the frequency of sugary foods is just as important as the quantity. As this increases the number of “acid attacks “on the teeth.

What can I do to help my child?

Most dentists recommend that you clean your teeth at least twice a day. Using a toothpaste containing fluoride. This provides the teeth with added protection from the effects of acid.

It is also important to have a regular check up at the dentist - most suggest once every six months to a year.

Unfortunately, even good oral hygiene does not always prevent decay as the bacteria can build up in areas inaccessible to brushes and floss, such as between the teeth. This can be difficult to detect and is often only visible on dental radiographs (x-rays)

Once the structure of a tooth has been damaged by decay, the only way to repair it is by placing a restoration (filling). However, if decay is picked up at a very early stage its progression can sometimes be stopped by the use of medications.