Preventing Kids’ Cavities

Preventing Cavities in Children

What is early childhood caries (cavities)?

The U.S. Surgeon General recognizes oral health as critical to overall well-being. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Healthy People 2010” report, cavities are a chronic disease five times more common than asthma among our nation’s children. More than half of all children have cavities by the second grade.

About 25 percent of Wisconsin’s Head Start children ages 3 and 4 have untreated decay and 33 percent have had cavities and now have fillings (source: Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ “Burden of Oral Disease in Wisconsin – 2010” report).


Tips for preventing cavities

Baby teeth can get cavities and young children can develop dental infections. Baby tooth decay is a serious, infectious and transmissible disease that can spread quickly and lead to infection without proper precautions.

The good news is early childhood caries (cavities) are preventable. Tips for preventing cavities in baby teeth include:

  • Mothers and pregnant women should make sure their own mouths are healthy by getting a professional dental exam and necessary care and by practicing good daily oral hygiene (brush, floss, healthy diet). This reduces transmission of cavity germs from mothers to infants.
  • Use breast milk, formula or water in baby’s bottle; never put juice, soda or other sweetened drinks in a baby bottle. Do not put an infant or toddler to bed with a bottle unless it contains only water. Wait until 12 months to give juice and then limit consumption to meal and snack times.
  • The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry encourages parents to have children drink from a cup by their first birthday.
  • If a child uses a pacifier, do not dip it in anything sweet like sugar or honey. If it falls on the ground, do not “clean” it in your own mouth as this can transmit cavity-causing germs to the child. Clean with hot water and soap and rinse thoroughly before returning to baby’s mouth.
  • Provide healthy snacks, such as meat, peanut butter, milk, yogurt, cheese, fruits and vegetables. Limit sweets in quantity, portion size and frequency.
  • Before baby teeth appear, gently wipe gums and inside of the mouth every day, especially after feedings and before bed, with a clean, warm cloth.
  • Beginning with the appearance of the first tooth, brush baby teeth twice a day with a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush and “smear” of fluoridated toothpaste according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. For 2 to 5-year-olds, use a “pea size” amount of toothpaste and perform or assist your child’s tooth brushing. (See below for video clip on how to brush your young child’s teeth.)
  • Listen to what a WDA dentist has to say about causes and prevention of early childhood cavities


Importance of a healthy diet

Eating patterns and food choices among children and teens are important factors that affect how quickly youngsters may develop tooth decay.

If your diet lacks certain nutrients, it may be more difficult for tissues in your mouth to resist infection. Many researchers believe disease progresses faster and could be more severe in people with nutrient-poor diets.

Choose foods wisely. Some foods that you would least expect contain sugars, such as fruits, milk, bread, cereals and even vegetables.

The key to choosing foods wisely is not to avoid these foods, but think before you eat. WHAT you eat and WHEN you eat makes a big difference in your dental health.

To get a balanced diet, eat a variety of foods. Choose foods from each of the five major food groups:

  • breads, cereals and other grain products
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • meat, poultry and fish
  • milk, cheese and yogurt

Limit the number of snacks you eat. Each time you eat food that contains sugars the teeth are attacked by acids for 20 minutes or more.

When you eat, food passes through your mouth where it meets the germs or bacteria (plaque) that live in your mouth. These bacteria love sugars found in many foods. When you don’t clean your teeth after eating, plaque bacteria use the sugar to produce acids that can destroy the hard surface of the tooth, called enamel. After a while, tooth decay occurs. The more often you eat and the longer foods are in your mouth, the more damage occurs.

If you do snack, choose nutritious foods, such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or a piece of fruit. Foods that are eaten as part of a meal cause less harm. More saliva is released during a meal, helping wash foods from the mouth and lessening the effects of acids.

For good dental health, keep these tips in mind when choosing your meals and snacks and remember to brush and flossy daily.

Source: American Dental Association


Benefits of fluoride

Fluoride has significant benefits for children. It works with plaque and saliva to protect the tooth enamel and make it more resistant to the acid and bacteria that cause tooth decay.

Community water fluoridation has been shown to reduce tooth decay by 20-40 percent in children, even in an era with widespread availability of fluoride from other sources, such as fluoride toothpaste.

For children who live in nonfluoridated communities, dietary fluoride supplements are an effective alternative to water fluoridation to help prevent dental decay. Parents should consult with family dentist about fluoride use for children younger than 2.