Tooth Decay: Why Does It Happen & How Can We Prevent It?

FluorideDid you know that tooth decay is one of the most common of all diseases, second only to the common cold? It affects more than 1 in every 4 children aged 2-5 years old,and that percentage only increases with age! Luckily, if caught early or actively prevented against, you can easily avoid the pain, discomfort, and stress associated with tooth decay.

Tooth decay is the breakdown or destruction of tooth enamel, caused by bacteria and sugar-heavy, starchy foods staying on the surface of your teeth which form plaque and over time eat away at the naturally occurring enamel, causing what we know as cavities! So who is at risk, and why? Well, all children have the bacteria mentioned above in their mouths, but the risk comes if your child has a diet high in sugar and starches, if water supply has little to no fluoride in it, or if they follow poor oral hygiene.

Though tooth decay can be a little different from child to child, generally in the beginning white spots begin appearing on affected areas of the teeth, which may be confusing because we often associate white teeth with healthy teeth, but it actually means that the enamel is beginning to break down. At this stage, you may notice your child having more sensitivity to hot or cold foods, or generalized pain and tingling. Not long after, a light brown spot may appear on the tooth, denoting a cavity. As it becomes deeper ingrained into the tooth, it will start to turn darker brown and almost black.

Prevention is key to avoiding the expense, pain, and worry that decay can bring to your family. Start by brushing your child’s teeth as soon as they emerge from the gum line, gently brushing teeth, gums, and tongue twice a day. For children younger than 2, you can use a smaller amount of toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice. Older children should use the size of a pea for toothpaste. As your child gets older, continue to oversee their brushing time until they form regular habits and can be trusted to brush regularly themselves. A tricky part of prevention is diet, but moderation is key. Limit chewy, sticky snacks that are high in sugars, like chips, candy, and cookies. Most importantly, begin scheduling regular dentist cleanings and exams every six months, and consider asking your dentist about fluoride treatments and dental sealants, both of which are great preventative measures.