A Parent's Guide to Childhood Tooth Decay

A Parent's Guide to Childhood Tooth Decay
Posted on 01/30/2017

As a parent, you know the importance of keeping your child healthy and strong. However, many parents fail to realize how vital it is to keep their children's teeth intact in childhood.

Childhood tooth decay is the most prevalent chronic disease affecting children in the United States. A reported 40% of children have at least one cavity before they reach age five.

In this blog, we discuss why childhood tooth decay can be harmful for your child and how you can protect your child from cavities.

Why Childhood Tooth Decay Matters

Childhood tooth decay appears in baby teeth that your child will eventually lose. However, this does not mean that childhood tooth decay won't affect your child's adult teeth.

The baby, or primary, teeth help your child learn to speak and eat normally as he or she develops. The primary teeth also provide a template that helps guide adult, or permanent, teeth into the correct position when they begin to erupt.

Cavities in primary teeth can cause your child to lose those teeth earlier than usual. This premature tooth loss can result in crooked permanent teeth or gums that are unhealthy and unable to properly support permanent teeth. Early tooth loss can lead to dental complications that last through adolescence.

Additionally, primary tooth decay can cause or contribute to:

  • Discomfort or pain in the teeth and jaw
  • Hearing difficulties and ear health conditions
  • Poor self-image and self-confidence
  • Speech impediments and delays

Because the primary teeth are so important to your child's lifelong oral health, it's important to prevent childhood tooth decay as much as possible and address any cavities when they appear.

How You Can Prevent Childhood Cavities

Cavities in primary teeth develop in the same way as any other cavities. To prevent cavities from forming, ensure that your child develops good brushing and flossing habits.

You can also reduce the risk of tooth decay by taking the following steps:

  • Encourage your child to drink water with meals and snacks to help wash away food particles
  • Reduce the amount of sugary and starchy foods in your child's diet
  • Schedule dental cleanings for your child every six months once he or she begins seeing a pediatric dentist

For ideas to instill good habits and reduce your child's risk of cavities, visit our blog.

Signs of Childhood Tooth Decay

Some children will still develop cavities despite their parents' best efforts. It's important to address these cavities as soon as they appear to prevent premature tooth loss and other childhood tooth decay complications.

Since cavities are not visible to the naked eye, you will need to watch for signs that your child has developed tooth decay, especially if you have a family history of weak enamel, gum disease, or other oral conditions. Common signs include:

  • Bad breath, especially if the odor persists even with regular brushing
  • Sensitivity to sugar or food temperature, which sometimes manifests as an unwillingness to eat foods with those characteristics
  • Swollen, red, or bleeding gums
  • Toothaches or jaw pain
  • Tooth discoloration that does not go away with normal oral hygiene practices
  • White buildup around your child's gum line, known as plaque

Your child may not bring these issues to your attention, but the problems may change his or her daily habits. If you notice that your child is eating or speaking differently than usual, ask him or her about oral hygiene and comfort. Be clear that your child is not in trouble and that you just want to help him or her feel better.

Your child may describe some of these sensations differently than you would. For example, a child might describe sensitivity by saying that he doesn't like a certain food anymore because it makes his teeth feel funny.

If your child mentions that a specific place in his or her mouth is achy, sensitive, or painful, take note of the location of the problem and let your child's dentist know as soon as possible. If a dentist determines that your child is at higher risk for childhood tooth decay, he or she may recommend using mouthwash, fluoridated toothpaste, dental sealant, or other tools to protect your child's teeth from future decay.

As you work to keep your child happy and healthy as he or she grows up, pay attention to oral health specifically to ensure that your child's smile stays bright and strong for a lifetime.

Want to protect your child's teeth? Schedule a dental appointment for your child early in their childhood. Both the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the first dental visit by the first birthday!

Schedule your child's first dentist appointment today.


Dentistry for Children & Adolescents

  • Edina Office - 7373 France Ave. S., Suite 402, Edina, MN 55435 Phone: 952-831-4400
  • Burnsville Office - 14050 Nicollet Ave., Suite 100, Burnsville, MN 55337 Phone: 952-435-4102
  • Eden Prairie Office - 6385 Old Shady Oak Road, Suite 150, Eden Prairie , MN 55344 Phone: 952-932-0920

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