A trip to the dentist should be a pleasant experience. That’s what we want for our kids: happy associations with that twice-annual visit to Dr. Case. Nothing ruins the good feeling at a dental visit faster than the dreaded words, “I found a cavity.” A cavity in a baby tooth is bad news, but not the end of the world. A cavity in a newly erupted permanent tooth is more cause for concern.

So what is a cavity? How do they form? And, what can we do to keep them from ever getting started?

What is a Cavity?

Simply, a cavity, also known as dental caries, is a hole in the tooth enamel. A tooth has an outer layer of hard enamel surrounding an inner layer of dentin, which covers the tooth pulp, which contains blood vessels and a nerve. A cavity forms when the enamel is weakened then fails and no longer covers the dentin.

A small cavity can usually be drilled to remove any decayed portion and stop further decay, then filled with strong material, like resin, to re-strengthen the remaining tooth with a tooth-colored filling. A larger cavity might require more extensive drilling and different materials to strengthen it. A very large cavity might need a root canal, where the inside of the tooth is removed and the whole tooth is filled.

How Do Cavities Form?

Cavities form when bacteria grow on the tooth and produce acid, softening the enamel and weakening it until it fails. Some children have more cavity-forming bacteria and acid in their mouths and are more likely to develop cavities.

Highly acidic environments, which tend to occur in the mouth after eating, encourage the cavity-causing bacteria to grow. So, children who are frequent snackers or drink milk or juice between meals are more likely to develop cavities. So-called “bottle mouth” or “baby bottle tooth decay” occurs when small children sleep with a bottle or sippy cup, keeping the acid levels in their mouth high and aiding the growth of bad bacteria.

Poor brushing technique is the best-known cause of cavities. The bacteria stick to the tooth surface, but debris left after brushing is much easier to stick to. This allows the bacteria to grow faster, sticking to the leftovers and creating plaque buildup, which further encourages bacteria and causes tooth decay. That’s why it is so important to help children learn proper brushing technique and proper oral care habits.

What Can We Do to Prevent Cavities?

It turns out, there’s quite a bit we can do to prevent cavities. First, teach your children proper brushing habits and techniques. Encourage young children to rinse with water immediately after eating, particularly after eating sugary snacks and juice.

Still, as bad as a cavity in a baby tooth can be, and they can be a major pain, we want to do everything we can to prevent decay in permanent teeth. This is where dental sealants can play a big role.

A dental sealant is a thin layer of protective material that is applied to the permanent molars in the back of the mouth. It provides extra protection to those tricky-to-brush teeth and helps keep them healthy for a lifetime. Ideally, sealants should be applied as soon as the molars come in (six years old for the first set of permanent molars) to keep any decay from starting.

Do Sealants Actually Make a Difference?

Studies have shown dental sealants can make a really big difference. The CDC reports that children without sealants have almost three times more cavities than children with sealants. Research shows that a tooth with a sealant has an 80% lowered cavity risk. Given what we know about how effective sealants can be, they are definitely worth considering to keep permanent teeth healthy.

Ask at your child’s next dental visit if they are a good candidate for dental sealants. If you have any questions about sealants or would like to schedule a visit with Family Dental Health, please contact us today to schedule an appointment. We would be more than happy to help your little one keep tooth decay at bay!

The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.