12 Jan Preventing Cavities and Tooth Decay
Dental caries, or more commonly cavities, are the result of the specific and steady bacterial build-up on the teeth. The sticky plaque that forms on your teeth is made up of broken down foods, sugars, and saliva. Proper brushing and flossing do clear most of this bacteria and plaque away, but if your child is not brushing with regularity and diligence, plaque can remain in the deep grooves in his molars, between his teeth, and at his gum line. These are the most common places for tooth decay to begin breaking down tooth enamel.
As a parent, it’s important to stay on top of your child’s teeth. He will not have the strength to properly brush his teeth until he is at least 6 years old, and even then you should be supervising his brushing habits to make sure he is brushing sufficiently.
The Process of Tooth Decay
The start of tooth decay is invisible to the eye. The bacteria that isn’t brushed away turns into acids that dissolve minerals in the top layer of a tooth, the hard enamel, creating pits that can get larger and more noticeable over time.
Beneath the enamel is the dentin, which is softer and yellow in colour. Dentin makes up the most of your teeth and contains small openings that lead to the nerves inside the tooth. When bacteria wears down a tooth’s enamel, it will appear a different colour on the surface. If bacteria continues to wear away the dentin and enamel, a cavity will eventually form on the tooth.
If bacteria gets its way, it can spread to the sensitive nerves of your teeth, causing a lot of pain. Telltale signs of a developing cavity are increased sensitivity to hot and cold drinks and sugary foods.
Here’s the good news: cavities don’t happen overnight. They take months, sometimes over a year, to develop. This is why it’s typical to see your dentist only a couple of times a year. He or she can set you and your children on the right path of keeping your teeth free of dental caries.
Preventing and Reversing Decay
Tooth decay is very preventable. Enamel is tough, and if you treat it well before it’s destroyed, it can regenerate. Here are a few extra tips to prevent damage to your child’s enamel beyond regular brushing:
- Floss – The quickest and easiest way to remove plaque around the hard-to-reach areas in your mouth is to floss. Floss daily to be rid of any settled bacteria between your teeth.
- Use fluoride – Fluoride strengthens your teeth, so using fluoridated toothpaste is good. However, too much fluoride is bad for a toddler. You need only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to brush your baby’s teeth. We touch on fluoride a little more in our article about your baby’s first teeth.
- Reduce snacks between meals – After you eat, bacteria breaks down foods into acids in your mouth. Snacking prolongs that activity, which can harm your enamel.
- Avoid sharing utensils – The bacterial balance in your mouth is much different than your child’s. Using the same spoon with which feed your child, or cleaning his pacifier with your mouth can spread bad bacteria to your child’s mouth. Instead, wipe down any spoons and forks to avoid spreading your saliva.
- Take your child to his first dentist appointment – If your child is under 3, his first visit with us is free. We can’t stress this enough. Beyond getting your child acquainted with the sights and sounds of the dentist office, this is an opportunity for us to check your child’s early development and prepare you both for future visits.
Keep a close eye on your child’s dental hygiene. Cavities on your child’s temporary baby teeth may not seem like a big deal at first, but baby teeth help guide the growth of the following adult teeth. If your child loses any teeth due to cavities, this can affect the spacing and the positioning of his permanent teeth. This almost assures that he’ll need orthodontic work in the future.