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Pediatric Dentistry

10 Questions About Kids’ Cavities

Answers for Parents from a Kids Dentist   

Though they’ll eventually fall out, baby teeth are essential to your child’s immediate and long-term health, development, and self-esteem and should ideally be preserved until they’re ready to fall out naturally. Of course, life isn’t always ideal and cavities can happen—so what do you do if your child has a cavity? How are cavities treated in children? And how can you help your child prevent cavities in the first place?

Here are 10 of the top questions about kids’ cavities we hear from parents and our answers.

1. How common are cavities in baby teeth?

Five times more prevalent than asthma, dental caries (aka cavities) is the most common chronic disease of childhood. An estimated 42% of children aged two and 11 have had dental caries in their primary (baby) teeth. Early childhood caries, which encompasses cavities between birth and 71 months, affects 28% of children between two and five.

2. How do I know if my child has a cavity?

The symptoms of tooth decay can vary greatly from child to child. A cavity may be obvious to the naked eye or present no symptoms whatsoever. While the best way to know whether or not a cavity has developed is to schedule an appointment with an experienced pediatric dentist, here are a few common signs that a cavity has developed:

  • White, brown, or black spots on the teeth. White spots may indicate that tooth enamel is breaking down, making your child’s teeth vulnerable to tooth decay or sensitivity. Light brown spots usually indicate an early cavity, while brown or black spots indicate that a cavity has formed already.
  • Tooth sensitivity. If your child has enamel erosion or a cavity, they may experience temperature sensitivity or sensitivity to certain tastes, such as sour or sweet.
  • Toothache or pain. A cavity may cause tooth pain or pain in the tissues that surround it.

3. Why does my child have a cavity?

Cavities form when harmful oral bacteria get the upper hand over your child’s mouth and teeth. As these oral bacteria feed (they especially love anything sugary), they produce an acid byproduct that weakens and breaks down tooth enamel, causing cavities. Baby teeth are especially susceptible to cavities, as they have a thinner layer of protective enamel than permanent (adult) teeth.

Certain factors, alone or combined, may increase your child’s risk for cavities, including:

  • Saliva transmission. Another person’s saliva—even a parent’s—can overexpose your child to the acid-producing oral bacteria that causes cavities.
  • Diet. As oral bacterias feed on carbohydrates, a diet high in sugars and starches may contribute to the formation of cavities. Additionally, sticky foods or those that dissolve slowly, like lollipops or hard candies, give oral bacteria more time to feed.
  • Bedtime drinks. The risk of early childhood caries (also known as baby bottle tooth decay) increases when sweetened liquids are used as a naptime or bedtime drink, as salivation slows during sleep. Without saliva or brushing to remove sweetened liquids from your child’s teeth, oral bacteria have a longer amount of time to feed on leftover sugars on and around your child’s teeth.
  • Dry mouth. Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth may be caused by multiple factors, including mouth breathing or dehydration.
  • Oral hygiene habits. Your child may be at risk for cavities if they’re not brushing long enough or often enough, or if they’re not properly flossing.

4. Is it my fault my child has a cavity?

Many parents struggle when they find out they’re child has a cavity, though there’s no need to panic or be hard on yourself. Take heart and know that a cavity doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a parent or that you’ve necessarily done anything wrong. A cavity may still happen despite your best efforts to prevent them through healthy lifestyle choices and a consistent oral hygiene routine. If your child has a cavity, what matters most is that you seek guidance and appropriate treatment from a pediatric dentist, and carry on with your best and well-informed efforts to prevent cavities.

5. Can I make a cavity go away?

Watching our children go through an injury or illness is never easy. If only we really could wave a magic wand and make it all go away! Though you can’t make a cavity go away once it’s formed, there is a lot you can do to support your child’s oral health and general well-being before, during, and after cavity treatment (see #9 and #10 for tips).

6. Is my child’s cavity a dental emergency?

While you should have your child seen by a kids dentist as soon as possible if you suspect they have a cavity (see #2), a cavity does not warrant an emergency dental visit as long as they are pain free.

7. Is it necessary to fill cavities in baby teeth?

If cavities are left untreated, the infection can damage other teeth and even spread into your child’s face and body. In addition to potentially affecting the health and alignment of your child’s permanent teeth, an untreated cavity can eventually impact your child’s ability to concentrate at school and properly chew and speak.

Because the consequences of an untreated cavity can be so grave, your family dentist will most likely recommend a filling or crown to support your child’s health, comfort, learning, and well-being. In some cases, the pediatric dentist may choose to monitor the tooth instead (for example, your child has a minor cavity in a baby tooth that is likely to fall out soon). Along with addressing a cavity, your family dentist may also recommend preventative measures (such as a professional fluoride treatment), diet or lifestyle changes, and at-home care.

8. How do dentists fill cavities in toddlers and children?

Cavity treatment for toddlers and children is very similar to cavity treatment for adults. First, the pediatric dentist will ensure your child is comfortable with a local anesthetic, and, if needed, sedation techniques, such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas). Once your child is comfortable and relaxed, your dentist will remove the tooth decay from your child’s baby tooth and protect the remaining tooth structure with a filling or a pediatric dental crown.

9. How can I prepare my kid to have a cavity filling? 

One of the best things you can do for your child is keep all talk of the pediatric dentist cool, calm, and positive. While you might be frustrated or disappointed that your child has a cavity, it’s important not to frame cavity treatment as punishment, such as “you didn’t brush your teeth enough, now you have to have your tooth filled.” Instead, you can try offering some basic information, such as “the dentist is going to remove a few sugar bugs from your teeth, then your smile will be so happy and healthy!”

If discovering your child has a cavity triggers your own feelings of dental anxiety, carve out time to process your feelings with another adult, such your partner, a therapist, or a trusted friend. By finding an appropriate and healthy outlet to process your feelings, you can spare your child from framing the pediatric dentist through a lens of fear, dislike, or anxiety.

10. How can I help my child prevent cavities?

Whether or not your child has had a cavity, there are several steps you can take to minimize their risk of getting cavities in their baby and adult teeth. Along with ensuring your child is properly brushing twice daily and flossing once daily, you can help your child prevent cavities by serving water over sugary drinks, trading sippy cups for regular cups, reducing sticky, sugary or acidic foods and treats, and visiting your pediatric dentist twice annually.

Dr. Shea and her team are dedicated to providing high quality dentistry for children to the greater Rocester and Chili, NY communities. To help your child experience the benefits great oral health brings, contact our office to schedule an appointment today.

Categories
Pediatric Dentistry

Dental Care for Kids: Oral Care Guide for Parents

The best approach to cavities is prevention.

At least 16.9% of American children between the ages of five and 19 have untreated cavities. If an average school classroom size is 30 students, that means that five kids are suffering from a cavity.

When left untreated, cavities can transform into a larger dental issue. Sometimes, cavities can become extremely painful, making it hard for kids to play, speak, and even learn.

So, how can you protect your child from the pain of a cavity or further oral health issues?

The key is prevention. With the right information and care, you can protect your child’s oral  health. Read on to learn about dental care for kids and what you can do to keep your child healthy at every age.

Brush Twice a Day

Just like adults, children need to brush their teeth twice a day. Regular brushing is the best way to prevent cavities and gum irritation.

Make sure your kids are brushing their teeth for at least two minutes. This applies to adults too! This is the amount of time it takes to remove plaque from your teeth and gums. Flossing is also a big part of a good oral care routine. It helps clear away food and bacteria under the gums and between the teeth. As soon as your child has teeth that touch, you can start using floss.

Consider Fluoride Treatments and Sealants

Fluoride is a natural mineral that helps strengthen enamel (the hard outer layer on your teeth) and prevent cavities. You can find it in most types of toothpaste. Plus, many U.S. towns and cities add fluoride to their tap water.

You can also opt for fluoride treatments from the dentist for even better cavity prevention. These may come in the form of a gel tray, foam, or varnish.

Another effective way to prevent cavities is to get sealants. A sealant is a thin plastic-like coating that a dentist applies to the crevices in your child’s molars. The sealant blocks bacteria and food from getting stuck there and causing decay.

Sealants cut your child’s risk for cavities by 80%. In fact, children without sealants are three times more likely to get cavities than kids without them.

Using fluoride treatments and sealants as well as fluoride-treated tap water and toothpaste will dramatically reduce your child’s risk for cavities.

See the Dentist Regularly


At every age, it’s important to take your child to regular dental checkups. Regular cleanings and checkups can prevent small issues from becoming major dental problems.

Children’s dentists know how to look for developmental or structural issues with your child’s teeth and jaw. They’ll look for issues with the bite pattern, teeth alignment, jaw growth and structure, and check for cavities.

Routine dental appointments can make your child feel more comfortable at the dentist’s office. If you ever need emergency dental care for your kids, your child won’t feel as nervous if they’re used to visiting the dentist.

Dental Care for Infants

When you’re caring for an infant, dental care is probably the last thing on your mind. Feeding, changing diapers, and playing takes up most of your time. Besides, babies don’t even have teeth yet.

But, you can protect your baby’s mouth and future teeth. Use a clean cloth to wipe their gums once in the morning and once at night. This keeps sugar and bacteria from hanging around and causing irritation.

When the first tooth comes in, book your baby’s first dentist appointment. The first tooth usually appears between four and seven months, but it can take longer than that. Either way, your baby should see a dentist at or before their first birthday.

You can also use a soft infant toothbrush and some water to clean your baby’s teeth. Ask your dentist when you should add fluoride toothpaste to the routine.

Dental Care for Kids

In childhood, it’s really important to establish a dental hygiene routine. Be sure to supervise your child’s brushing habits to make sure they’re cleaning each tooth. They’ll carry the habits they learn into adolescence.

Try turning it into a game or playing music to make it more fun. You can also brush your teeth alongside your child to model good brushing behavior. Plus, it can be a fun morning and evening ritual.

If your child is less than three years old, use a rice-grain sized amount of kid’s toothpaste. Ask your dentist for recommendations on a toothpaste that best fits your child. You don’t want to use too much fluoridated toothpaste because over mineralization of the teeth can leave white marks on the tooth’s surface. After age three, you can use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste.

Dental Care for Teens

When your child is a teenager, you need to make sure that they continue the hygiene practices they learned as a kid. Plus, they still need to see a dentist twice a year.

By the time your child is a teenager, they will have all or most of their adult teeth. Good hygiene is especially important at this age since their teeth are permanent. Unlike baby teeth, there’s no backup for adult teeth.

Contact sports can also pose a risk to your teenager’s teeth. If your kid plays football, baseball, or softball, make sure they wear their mouthguard.

As your teen’s mouth grows, their teeth can start to shift at this age. Your dentist will give you advice on whether or not your child needs braces or orthodontic care. Wisdom teeth can also pose an issue at this age, but your dentist can monitor this as well.

Book Your Child’s Next Dentist Appointment Today

In addition to good hygiene and a healthy diet, keeping regular dentist appointments is the best way to make sure your child’s dental health is on track. But, visiting the dentist can be a stressful experience for kids.

That’s why it’s so important to choose the right pediatric dental group that can provide the best dental care for your kids. If you want to take your child to the best dentist in Rochester, NY, you can’t go wrong with Dr. Judith Shea. She’s a board-certified pediatric dentist.

Since Dr. Shea specializes in dental care for kids, both you and your child can rest easy. Your kid will have a happy, stress-free appointment, and you’ll feel relieved knowing you’re protecting your child’s oral health.

To book an appointment or schedule a visit to our office, contact us today.