Childhood Cavities: Causes and Prevention

Cute Kid Showing Off His Cavity Free SmileYou might be surprised to learn that the #1 chronic childhood illness affecting U.S. children isn’t allergies or asthma . . . it’s tooth decay. Over one-quarter of American children between the ages of 2 and 5 and half of children ages 12-15 have tooth decay and although a cavity doesn’t sound like a big problem, poor oral health in children is associated with pain, loss of school days, and problems speaking, eating, learning, and interacting. This guide is designed to help parents learn how tooth decay happens, why children are particularly susceptible, and how to prevent cavities in children.

What Causes Cavities?

Clinically known as dental caries, tooth decay is the result of an overabundance of a single species of oral bacteria called S. mutans. This bacteria feeds on particles of sugar and other food that stay behind in the mouth after eating and drinking. The digestion process ferments the sugars into an acidic substance that slowly degrades the tooth enamel and creates cavities.

Why are Kids at a High Risk for Cavities?

Two factors cause children to be at high risk for tooth decay:

  • Diet. The average American child’s diet is filled with added sugars, from the juices and flavored milks they drink, to the yogurts and fruit snacks they nosh on throughout the day.
  • Poor oral health habits. Children and teens tend to not place a lot of importance on oral health. A quick swipe with the toothbrush or a swish of mouthwash might be the most some children do to care for their every day.

Together, these factors create an ideal breeding ground for S. mutans.

Preventing Childhood Tooth Decay

The best thing you as a parent can do to help your child have a heathier smile and reduce the risk for cavities is demonstrate and reinforce good oral health habits at home. Check in and make sure your child is brushing with toothpaste for at least two minutes after breakfast and before bed. Additionally, take your child to a caring children’s dentist twice a year for regular checkups and cleanings so you can stay abreast of any developing cavities.