When it comes to your child’s teeth, you may have heard of the term “caries”, which is not well known or often understood. Caries is simply the disease process that often results in a cavity (or hole in the tooth)…so these terms as they relate to your child’s teeth are technically not the same! Much like coronary artery disease is the disease process that results in a heart attack. Yet, like many diseases, caries is chronic, infectious, and complex!
Understanding the components leading to a cavity is critical to maintaining the health of your child’s teeth. There are 3 major players in the caries process that are absolutely required to interact to form a cavity:
- Bacteria in the mouth, known as Strep mutans
- Sugars in the diet
- The tooth itself
The interaction of bacteria and sugars on the tooth surface leads to the acidic breakdown of the tooth, eventually leading to a CAVITY. I say “eventually” because the caries process can be present in the mouth even before the cavity develops. For example, chalky white spots on the enamel, especially around the gum line, are an early sign that the caries process is at work.
In regards to these 3 important players, caries is PREVENTABLE in some of the following ways:
- Decrease your child’s sugar intake by limiting sugary snacks and juices. Replace them with healthy fruits and vegetables, along with milk and water.
- Limit the exposure your infant will have to caries-causing bacteria. You may not realize this but you can transfer bacteria from your mouth to your infant’s mouth and put them at greater risk for developing caries. Therefore, take extra caution to not clean the pacifier, bottle nipple, or spoon in your mouth and then put it into your infant’s mouth.
- Keep the surfaces of your child’s teeth clean. By brushing your child’s teeth 2 times a day with a fluoridated toothpaste, and flossing them once a day when the teeth are touching, you are improving their chances of not developing a cavity from caries. Brushing your infant’s teeth with a toothbrush should begin as soon as those teeth come into the mouth.
If you are concerned that the caries process has begun or you are worried that your child is exhibiting signs of cavities, please bring your child in for an examination. I would be happy to take a look and discuss with you my findings and practical solutions. It is important to maintain the health of those baby teeth so that your child does not exhibit pain, infection, or swelling. And even if you are not concerned about your child’s teeth, I recommend bringing your child into see me as early as age 1. The best way to prevent cavities is to address it before it begins!