Tooth decay in children (prevention and treatment)

Tooth decay in children (prevention and treatment)

Did you know that one in three Australian children experience tooth decay before their first day of school?

Cases of tooth decay soar to a higher 40 per cent for children aged nine, according to researchers from the University of Melbourne.

When untreated, this widespread condition creates significant pain, and often harms a child’s self-esteem. Even more concerning? The potential long-term health impacts of tooth decay in children (keep reading for more information).

As a parent, you do everything to protect the welfare of your child, however dental cavities are insidious and often go undetected.
Thankfully, tooth decay in children is both preventable and treatable, especially if detected early!

– What is tooth decay in children?
– Dangers of tooth decay in children
– Signs of tooth decay in children
– Preventing tooth decay in children

What is tooth decay in children?

Tooth decay occurs when a harmful bacteria called mutans streptococcus accumulates in the mouth and forms a plaque that destroys the protective enamel on teeth.

This leads to the formation of cavities (also called dental caries), which impacts people of all ages.

Children are more vulnerable to cavities, because their teeth have softer enamel.

The dangers of tooth decay in children

  • Pain and discomfort, especially when eating or drinking
  • Tooth and gum sensitivity
  •  Tooth discolouration
  • Tooth loss
  • Bad breath
  • Altered speech patterns and pronunciation (due to pain)
  • Difficulty chewing (from pain) can lead to nutritional deficiencies
  • Feeling embarrassed or self-conscious about discoloured teeth
  • Consistent pain can distract a child’s focus and impact their mental health
  • Infection can cause a painful abscess and spread if left untreated
  • Financial burden to treat chronic tooth decay that’s been ignored for a long time

Many of us are familiar with these side-effects, but there’s less awareness around the potential long-term impacts of tooth decay (for people of all ages, not just children).

A growing field of research tells us that untreated dental cavities can worsen other health conditions over time – such as depression and heart disease.

Believe it or not, serious tooth infections (caused by decay) can even increase an individual’s risk of acquiring chronic diseases like diabetes or dementia. This comes down to the fact that oral bacteria is connected to higher levels of inflammation in the rest of the body, which triggers many diseases.

Signs of tooth decay in children

Please take your child for a check-up at your local dentist, if they show any signs of the following:

  • Tooth or gum pain
  • Bad breath or bad taste in mouth
  • Teeth sensitivity when drinking or eating
  • Tooth discolouration
  • Dull white bands close to the gums
  • Brown, black or yellow bands near the gum line
  • Altered tooth structure, such as the formation of stumps or other irregularities
  • Toothache after brushing
  • Visible white, brown or black patches on teeth

Bear in mind that tooth decay in children is easily treated in the early stages (before infection progresses), so it’s crucial to take your little one to their dentist for regular check-ups and thorough cleaning sessions.

Early detection is always beneficial, but prevention remains the best strategy.

Preventing tooth decay in children:

Brushing and flossing daily:

Empowering your child with proper oral care habits is the first step.

The Australian Dental Association provides this useful video demonstrating effective brushing technique.

For older children who can brush on their own:

  • Ensure they brush twice a day for two minutes morning and night. An electric toothbrush can make this routine more fun.
  • Teach them to floss daily (or every other day).
  • Choose a suitable toothpaste for their age, with the right amount of fluoride (400-550 ppm).

For babies and toddlers:

  • Gently clean their teeth using a baby toothbrush and water. Avoid fluoride toothpaste before 18 months, and even then, opt for low-fluoride toothpaste.

Some parents don’t bother to clean their baby’s teeth, because these will eventually fall out naturally. However, overlooking this crucial step is an error. Fostering good oral habits from the beginning establishes a strong foundation for dental health.

Food and nourishment:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the primary culprit behind tooth decay is eating and drinking too much sugar.

Limiting sugar intake is crucial. Harmful bacteria thrive on lingering sugar in the mouth.

While occasional sweet treats are okay, moderation is key, especially when it comes to processed foods and drinks that contain added sugar.

The World Health Organisation recommends limiting sugar to less than 6 teaspoons a day.

On top of reducing sugar, it’s a good idea to feed your child nutrient-rich foods that promote healthy oral bacteria and help to reduce plaque.

Examples include:

  • Yoghurt
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Sourdough bread
  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Salmon
  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Leafy vegetables

Don’t share food or utensils with your child:

A surprising revelation is that cavities are contagious, much like the common cold. In other words, the bacteria mutans streptococcus can be passed on through saliva.

Avoid sharing utensils, blowing on your baby’s food, or any form of saliva exchange (such as giving your baby a peck on the lips). This is particularly important if you have undetected tooth decay.

Parents are often shocked to discover that innocent actions (like sharing a spoon) can contribute to their child developing tooth decay. Nobody wants that guilt on their shoulders!

When to book your baby’s first dental appointment?

Early dental visits are paramount. Schedule your child’s first dental appointment around the age of three. This enables your dentist to check for cavities, while carefully monitoring the development of their teeth, gums and jaw.

Book an appointment with Advanced Dental in Cammeray:

Take a proactive step towards protecting your child’s oral health, by booking an appointment with our highly qualified dentists. We have years of experience working with children and know how to settle their nerves around dental visits.

In case you’re not already aware, it’s possible to apply for government assistance that covers the cost of your visit.

Eligible families can benefit from the federal government’s Child Dental Benefits Scheme, offering up to $1052 for basic dental services for children under 17 (over a two-year period).

Call (02) 9922 6022 or fill out this form to book an appointment with our friendly team.