The Unexpected Causes of Cavities in Children

cavities in children

It’s something parents may not think a lot about, but dental hygiene is important for young children.

How we take care of baby teeth can have an impact on the health of permanent teeth. By preventing cavities in children, you may be helping with the development of a clean, white smile for years to come.

The number of cavities in children has been on the decline, but over the past 20 years, cavities found in baby teeth have become more common. About 60% of five-year-olds have had at least one cavity. Many have had five and even 10.

These cavities can cause a lot of pain and often have to be repaired or removed. When baby teeth are pulled before falling out naturally they can no longer act as a place-holder for the budding permanent teeth. This can be a problem as some permanent teeth don’t come out until age 12.

Cavities in children are preventable if parents begin to focus on dental health at an early age. It’s why the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends parents bring their kids to the dentist when they get their first tooth. At the latest, they should be evaluated by their first birthday.

But what are some of the causes of cavities in children? Can parents do anything to help with the oral health of kids?

Here are some of the causes of cavities in children and how to prevent them.

Candy, juice and even milk

It’s something dentists and dieticians recommend all the time – stay away from sugar!

To understand why sugar is bad for teeth it’s important to take a look at how cavities are formed. Bacteria in the mouth soaks up the sugar and carbohydrates we eat and releases acid. This acid breaks down tooth enamel and may lead to tooth decay.

Candy, juice and other sugary sweets provide a feast for mouth bacteria, but they’re not the only culprit. It can also happen if you put your baby to sleep with a bottle of milk or formula. Milk should only be offered during meals and not throughout the day.

One way pediatric dentists can help fight cavities is by providing a fluoride varnish to children’s teeth. This causes fluoride to be released when the pH level of a tooth drops as a result of the cavity-causing acid.

Brush your child’s teeth for them

It may seem like a hassle, but it’s a good idea to begin cleaning your children’s teeth once they get their first tooth. Before the age of one, teeth should be wiped with a washcloth each day. After their first birthday, get into the habit of brushing their teeth for them.

Doing this establishes oral care as part of their routine. It may result in them being more compliant to this activity. Plus, of course, it helps fight cavities.

If your toddler is giving you a difficult time, try different types of toothbrushes. They may prefer an electronic toothbrush to a traditional one, or vice versa. There are also mobile apps available that act as timers by using animated characters and music to make the task more appealing to children.

Another thing to consider is brushing your children’s teeth for them until they’re eight or nine years old. Kids don’t develop the fine motor skills necessary for good brushing until this age. They may require help up until then.

Also, begin flossing once your children’s teeth no longer have gaps between them. A toothbrush may not be able to reach plaque and debris between teeth at this point.

Second-hand smoke may cause cavities in children

If you’re a smoker, you might be putting your children’s teeth at risk.

A critical summary of a review of 15 studies that were published between 1990 and 2010 shows there’s potential for a causal relationship between second-hand smoke and cavities in baby teeth. There was insufficient evidence, however, to demonstrate it had an effect on permanent teeth.

It doesn’t nail down the precise way second-hand smoke may cause cavities, but the summary proposed a few possibilities. It might be caused by second-hand smoke influencing microorganisms in the mouth, decreasing vitamin C levels, decreasing immune function, decreasing saliva production and causing nasal congestion, which may affect mouth breathing.

Considering what we know about first-hand smoking and the oral problems it can cause, it may not be a stretch to imagine second-hand smoke can have adverse effects on dental health. More research on this topic has been recommended.

Mellow out, mom!

There could also be a connection between a mother’s stress and cavities in children.

Research done by the Dental Institute at King’s College London found that cavities may be more common among kids whose moms exhibit high levels of stress. The study examined data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted between 1988 and 1994 on U.S. mothers and children.

It showed that the children of mothers who had two or more biological markers of chronic stress, including high blood sugar and blood pressure, had more cavities. Chronic stress among moms was also associated with less frequent breastfeeding and fewer visits to the dentist for their children.

The researchers cautioned this doesn’t prove a causal relationship between a mother’s stress and her children’s cavities. Cavities were also found to be more widespread among children who weren’t breastfed as babies. Low-income mothers were also less likely to breastfeed or take their child to the dentist.

Take good care of your children’s teeth

It’s important to remember that while baby teeth may be temporary, the effect they can have on permanent teeth is huge. Both parents and dentists can do a lot to prevent cavities in children and keep those pearly whites healthy in the early years of development. The happy smile you’ll get from your children as a result of good dental care will last for many years.

Ready to make an appointment for your child? Have any questions? Leave a comment below or drop us a line! We’re ready to answer any queries you may have.

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