Cavities in Kids - The Truth

Last Editorial Review: 7/7/2004

We have turned (as we have before) to Dr. Peter Domoto, chairman of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, to answer some common and some very important questions that parents may have about dental care for their children and to offer some tips so that families can make every month dental health month.

Question: Do soft teeth run in families?

Answer: "Dental scientists now know that soft teeth aren't the real culprit of tooth decay. Rather, tooth decay is an infection that is usually transmitted from mothers to babies during the first year of life. Women of childbearing age who have cavities or have had a lot of fillings are at the greatest risk to infect their newborns with cavity producing bacteria. These bacteria live on sugar that is part of the baby's diet and deposit acid against the child's tooth surfaces."

Question: Does it really matter if baby teeth have cavities?

Answer: "Cavities are the result of a bacterial infection. The infection leads to demineralization of teeth. The demineralization can result in cavities because the enamel is unsupported and collapses. The infection spreads and can cause severe pain and suffering in children. Healthy baby teeth support infant and toddler eating, speech development and establish a healthy environment for permanent teeth that erupt later in life. Healthy baby teeth are also the best space maintainers for permanent teeth."

Question: When do parents need to pay attention to dental health?

Answer: "Children as young as nine or 10 months of age can be infected with cavity producing bacteria. If left untreated, these tooth infections can lead to pain and expensive dental treatment."

Question: How can parents prevent early childhood dental caries (cavities)?

Answer: Here are nine pieces of good advice that parents would do well to follow to keep their children from getting cavities:

  1. Mothers should reduce their own oral bacterial infection through dental care and effective oral home care during prenatal and postnatal periods.
  2. Avoid propping a bottle in the crib.
  3. Avoid excessive nighttime bottle or breastfeeding.
  4. Try comforting the child with a pacifier or favorite toy or blanket instead of using the bottle or breast as a pacifier.
  5. If water is unfloridated, discuss fluoride drops or tablets with the dentist. Fluoride can be obtained with a prescription.
  6. Clean a child's teeth as soon as they erupt. Parents should use a damp cloth or a toothbrush to clean the teeth. Cleaning a child's teeth remains the parent's responsibility into the preschool years.
  7. Check teeth regularly for any chalky white or brown spots that could be the beginning of decay.
  8. Bring the child to the dentist whenever a dental problem is suspected.
  9. A child's first visit to the dentist should be made by the first birthday or six months after the first tooth erupts.

Taking Dr. Domoto's advice will result in a a foundation of good dental health and a lifetime of healthy smiles.

For more information, please visit the Cavities Center.


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