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Kid's First Cavity: What You Need to Know to Prevent Another One

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

When your child's first tooth appears, it's a cause for celebration. But your kid's first cavity? Not so much. But please don't stress too much because your child isn't alone. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), kids ages 2-11, on average, have 1.6 decayed baby teeth – with older kids ages 12-19 having, on average, 0.45 permanent teeth with tooth decay.

Now's the time to learn about everything that causes cavities and how they affect your child's health – and then make a plan to prevent any more cavities from forming. To help you, we present the information you need and a plan you and your child can work on together.

What Causes Childhood Cavities?

It's not just older kids who can get cavities – toddlers experience tooth decay, as well. Here are some common causes:

  • Babies falling asleep while nursing or with a bottle, trapping milk and other liquids with sugar in their mouths.
  • Toddlers walking around with a bottle or sippy cup with milk, juice, or soda pop.
  • Kids of any age indulging in unhealthy eating and drinking habits – and getting insufficient dental care.

What Are the Effects of Childhood Cavities?

If your child has cavities, these conditions can develop without treatment:

  • Tooth loss
  • Ear and speech problems
  • Severe pain
  • Bacteria build-up leading to gum disease
  • More complex dental procedures, like root canals
  • Crooked, pitted, and permanently stained teeth resulting from decayed baby teeth
  • Poor self-image

It seems the effects of childhood cavities are everything you want to avoid.

How to Encourage Your Child to Brush Their Teeth

One of the most powerful things you can do as a parent is model good oral hygiene habits for your child. Watching you take care of your teeth helps your kid learn that good oral care is just part of everyday life – not something to do when they happen to remember. It's a lesson that will serve your child well for life.

Establish Home Oral Care Central: Though your home might have more than one bathroom, designate one as Oral Care Central after breakfast and before bedtime.

If from a young age, your kid sees you go through all the steps of getting out your toothbrush, squeezing the toothpaste, and brushing your teeth and gumline properly, it'll pay off at the dentist's office. Other things you can do to promote vital oral health care for kids:

  • Help children under age 6 brush their teeth, but also let them see you brush yours.
  • Clean between your teeth – and help them, as well. Using floss or other interdental cleaners greatly contributes to preventing tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Rinse with antibacterial mouthwashes.

Once your child reaches age 8, they might be ready to take over their oral hygiene. Check with them often, though, to ensure it's really happening.

How to Make Teeth Brushing Fun

Making toothbrushing a fun activity can go a long way toward helping your child develop healthy habits. Some tips include:

  • Let your kid pick out fun and colorful toothbrushes with soft bristles and a toothbrush head made for small mouths. Or, let toddlers choose finger brushes that delight them. Having a say in their tools might make it more enticing to use them.
  • Buy child-friendly flossers and yummy-tasting, mild toothpaste and mouthrinse.
  • Find or make up silly brushing songs and goofy brushing games.
  • To ensure brushing time is adequate, get a colorful two-minute sand timer your child can flip over right before putting toothbrush to teeth.
  • Get some dental disclosing tablets to stain the plaque on your kid's teeth. This is a fun way to tell what areas need further brushing.
  • Create a reward system for proper home oral care and for being a good kid at the dentist.

How to Prevent Childhood Cavities

In addition to establishing great home oral care habits, you can take these steps:

  • Put your baby to bed without a bottle. If your baby must have a bottle to go to sleep, fill it with water.
  • Fill your toddler's walking-around bottles and sippy cups with water only. Serve milk and juice with meals.
  • Schedule your child's first dental visit before their first birthday. Early detection of any issues is key.
  • Ensure your child is getting enough fluoride each day. Check with your dentist to determine the proper amount. Fluoridated water is a great source.
  • Serve more healthy, tooth-friendly meals and snacks with nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, proteins, and foods with calcium.
  • Limit sugary desserts, beverages, and carbohydrates to mealtimes. Sugary snacks and drinks, especially soda pop, are the biggest culprits in tooth decay. Processed foods high in sugar and carbohydrates are also offenders.

Plus, be aware that after your child has had their first cavity filled, they might be a little more anxious about their next dental visit. Seek out ways to reduce anxiety and remain positive about each visit.

You do all you can to ensure your kid's teeth remain healthy for a lifetime. It's good to know that one cavity shouldn't affect your child's future oral health if treated promptly. It might be a sign to step up your youngster's home oral care by making brushing fun and taking other steps to prevent future cavities. One cavity down, years of great dental reports ahead!

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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