Cavities in Toddlers: What to Look For and How Your Dentist Can Treat Them

Cavities in toddlers are, unfortunately, a common occurrence. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 42% of children aged 2 to 11 will develop at least one cavity. Parents should be aware of the signs and symptoms of cavities; this will allow you to seek out toddler cavity treatment in a timely manner to prevent further damage to the teeth.

However, the signs of cavities aren’t all you should know. The best way to treat cavities is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Here’s the lowdown on cavities in toddlers, from symptoms to treatment to prevention.

Does Your Child Have a Cavity?

In order to determine if your child has a cavity, there are several visual signs you can look out for. White spots on the teeth are early signifiers of tooth decay, but that doesn’t mean there’s a cavity yet. When a cavity forms, it will be light brown in color at first. As the cavity worsens, it will turn a deeper shade of brown.

Often, you can tell if your child has a cavity if they start complaining of symptoms. Physical symptoms of cavities in toddlers include:

  • Pain in the area around the affected tooth
  • Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods

If your child starts complaining of any pain or sensitivity, it’s time to make an appointment with their dentist.

What Causes Cavities in Toddlers?

Most often, cavities are caused by tooth decay. Tooth decay occurs when bacteria builds up in your child’s mouth. The bacteria create acid that erodes enamel over time. When the enamel gets worn away, the small holes that are left are called cavities.

While you can’t eliminate 100% of bacteria in your child’s mouth, there are certain behaviors that put your child at a higher risk for tooth decay. These behaviors include:

  • Eating a diet high in sugar or starches. Bacteria convert sugar into acid, so any sugar that lingers on teeth creates a breeding ground for tooth decay. Starches get broken down by saliva into sugars, so too many starches are just as bad as sugary foods.
  • Not adhering to good oral hygiene habits. Since proper brushing and flossing remove bacteria and bits of food debris, skipping these routines lets the bacteria run amok.
  • Drinking water with low or no fluoride content. Fluoride is a mineral that helps strengthen tooth enamel.

If your child engages in any of these behaviors, they’re likely at a high risk for developing a cavity.

Composite Fillings for Cavities

The treatment for cavities in toddlers consists of a composite filling, which is a tooth-colored filling that will fill in the hole and protect the tooth from further damage. Composite fillings can typically be completed in just one visit. When your child comes in for the procedure, the dentist will start by using local anesthesia to numb their teeth and gums.

After your child is prepped, the dentist will remove any decay from the affected tooth and clean the area. They will then apply tooth-colored composite to the cavity, using a special light to cure and harden the composite.

When the composite is hardened, the dentist will check to make sure the filling is comfortable. They can file down the filling as needed. Composite fillings are durable enough to last through normal wear and tear. As long as your child follows proper oral hygiene habits, you can expect their filling to last for years.

Generally, children experience minimal to no discomfort during toddler cavity treatments. If you’re concerned that your child might have a hard time with the procedure, sedation dentistry is always an option that you can discuss with the dentist.

How to Prevent Cavities in Toddlers

While cavities in toddlers aren’t difficult to treat, the best thing to do for your child is to work towards preventing cavities. There are plenty of ways that you and your child can reduce their risk for cavities, including:

  • Start brushing early. As soon as your child’s teeth come in, parents should start cleaning teeth with water, later building up to using toothpaste.
  • Engaging in proper oral hygiene. Children should brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes at a time, and they should floss once a day. If they’re too young to do it on their own, parents should brush their children’s teeth for them.
  • Use fluoridated toothpaste. You can introduce toothpaste with fluoride once your child is two years old.
  • Don’t let your child go to bed with a bottle. Baby bottle decay occurs when your child’s teeth have prolonged exposure to sugary liquids like juice. If your child needs a bottle at bedtime, always choose water.
  • Avoid sugary and starchy foods. Exposing the teeth to sugar allows bacteria to create enamel-eroding acids. If your child does have a sugary snack, brush their teeth afterward to limit exposure.
  • Make regular visits to the dentist. Your child should start seeing the dentist as soon as their teeth come in or before their first birthday. After that, they should see the dentist every 6 months for regular checkups and cleanings to keep tooth decay at bay.

While cavities in toddlers are a common problem, they’re not inevitable. If you help your child learn proper oral hygiene habits, it will help keep their teeth healthy as they grow up. Whether your child needs treatment for a cavity or just needs their regular checkup and cleaning, Tooth Fairy Pediatric Dental is here to serve your needs. Contact us today to make an appointment at any of our convenient locations.