All About Cavities

Discoloration of the teeth, sensitivity to common foods, and an obnoxious, aching pain that just doesn’t seem to go away: all due to those pesky cavities. Children suffering from cavities, or tooth decay may experience life altering symptoms that can cause them to miss countless hours of school and activities needed for a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, dentists will see as many as 42% of children ages 2 to 11 years old suffering from preventable dental cavities on their primary teeth. According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, cavities are recognized as a prevalent chronic disease among children across the United States, even more so than asthma! Thankfully, tooth decay and dental cavities are preventable and treatable!

So what should I know about cavities?

Well, let’s start with the breakdown of what a cavity is. By definition, a cavity is formed when decaying, or the softening of enamel, occurs over time thus leaving a hole in the tooth. Your teeth were made with a hard, protective layer called enamel. Enamel can become weakened by the acids produced by bacteria in our mouths. Once the enamel deteriorates, a cavity is left in it’s place. In some cases, cavities may not cause pain; however, an untreated cavity may expose nerves thus causing pain or become infected causing a tooth abscess. So, it’s important to practice thorough and effective oral hygiene to prevent tooth decay and dental cavities.

Where in my mouth are cavities located?

Since cavities are formed by the softening of the protective enamel layer, it’s always helpful to fully understand target areas where cavities are typically found. Learning these target areas will help you and your child during brushing! When preparing to brush away that pesky plaque, make sure to focus in the grooves on the chewing surface of your teeth. This area is extremely susceptible to cavities as it breaks down food and is exposed to the tiny morsels that can get caught in the fissures along the teeth. Another area that will need a little extra attention while brushing is the little area of tooth just above the gum line because plaque has easier access to the root of the tooth causing a cavity. In addition to brushing, daily flossing is critical to healthy teeth. Food tends to get trapped in the spaces between the teeth, and, if not removed, can build up and produce plaque that will deteriorate the enamel.

How do we prevent cavities?

Creating and maintaining a healthy oral hygiene routine can make In addition to enforcing beneficial oral hygiene habits, it’s important to monitor your child’s diet and the amount of sugar and acid in the foods they consume. Our mouths naturally produce bacteria, and the bacteria feed on the sweet and sugary foods we eat turning it into acidic waste. This can lead to bacterial plaque if not maintained with good brushing etiquette. The buildup of bacterial plaque in your child’s mouth serves as the primary cause of 90% of all dental diseases due to the secretion of acidic waste products that further the process of tooth decay. Making sure to brush and floss can make extreme differences in your child’s oral health.

Fortunately, tooth decay is highly preventable and treatable, and we’d love to help you with the process at Triangle Pediatric Dentistry!

Tooth decay (also known as caries or cavities) is the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States (even more prevalent than asthma!). Dental cavities affect 50% of first-graders and as many as 80% of 17-year-olds. Research has shown that children with cavities miss millions of hours of school due to dental symptoms and as a result their academic performance suffers. Infants and toddlers can be affected by cavities as well. Once a child’s diet includes anything other than breast milk then the erupted teeth are susceptible to decay.

So what exactly is tooth decay and how do you get a cavity? Tooth decay (cavities) is actually a disease caused by bacteria. It is not a life threatening disease and it is actually very preventable with proper oral hygiene. Your mouth is full of all kinds of bacteria that normally live there. These bacteria all stick together and form plaque that sticks to your teeth. The main bacteria contained in plaque that causes cavities is called Streptococcus mutans. Strep mutans and some other bacteria break down sweet foods and starchy foods (view our diet section) to produce acid! The acid eats away at your teeth and dissolves the minerals in your tooth. Our body naturally fights this acid with the saliva in your mouth. The saliva buffers against the acid and makes it less likely to erode the minerals from your teeth. There are also minerals dissolved in your saliva that can be deposited on your tooth to replace some of the minerals that acid eats away. If the acid is allowed to stay in contact with your teeth too long or too frequently then eventually it eats away enough minerals that you end up with a hole in your tooth. This hole is a cavity!

Early Childhood Caries (Baby Bottle Cavities)

One form of cavities that pediatric dentists are unfortunately all too familiar with is Early Childhood Caries (ECC). Early Childhood Caries causes rapid and severe destruction of baby teeth, usually starting with the front teeth. Early Childhood Caries was formerly known as baby bottle tooth decay because is commonly associated with children that go to sleep while breast-feeding or bottle-feeding. ECC is actually associated with the frequent consumption of sugary liquids like soda, juice, or sweet tea in the bottle, sippy cup, or just a plain, regular cup. Consumption of these types of drinks is especially problematic when it occurs at night when a child sleeps with a bottle or sippie cup. In addition, children are at risk of getting ECC even if they are sleeping with a bottle or sippie cup containing milk or breast- feeding at night. At night, the flow of saliva decreases which diminishes the natural self-cleansing action of the mouth. ECC begins with destruction of the upper front teeth and then spreads to the back teeth on the top or bottom. Due to the destructive nature of these cavities the teeth sometimes need to be pulled or fixed with stainless steel crowns (link). Due to the young age of these affected children and the number of teeth affected, some children with ECC have to be treated under general anesthesia (link) in the hospital.

Most common locations for cavities

There are two areas of the teeth that are more likely to get cavities than others. Back baby molars and the permanent molars have very deep grooves and pits on the chewing surface. These grooves and pits are perfect places for bacteria to hide and your toothbrush bristles often cannot reach into these grooves and pits to remove the bacteria. Even if you are brushing well you may not be able to get all of the bacteria out of the pits and grooves and eventually you may get cavities. These deep grooves and pits can be removed by placing dental sealants (link to sealants) in them. The other location where you are susceptible to cavities is between the teeth where the teeth touch together. Once again, this is an area where bacteria can hide and not be reached by a tooth brush. If your teeth touch together tightly (most adult teeth do and many children’s teeth do as well) then your tooth brush bristles cannot get between them to remove the bacteria. Luckily, these bacteria can be removed with floss! Floss can get between your teeth and remove the bacteria that toothbrushing will otherwise miss. For this reason flossing needs to be done daily!

Preventing cavities

Tooth decay is a preventable disease. With a lot of diligence and good habits you can keep your child from ever getting a cavity. Practicing good oral hygiene and making sure that you children eat a proper diet and avoid problematic foods and drinks can remove the sources that cause cavities. Check out or sections on diet and oral hygiene. One extremely important tip is to make sure that infants and toddlers are not going to bed with a bottle or sippie cup or frequently drinking sweet drinks (soda, juice, sports drinks) from a bottle or sippie cup. Getting your child started early with dental visits is a great way to stay on top of things and make sure that everything is being done to keep your child cavity free!

Contact Your Wake Forest Dentist Today

If you are concerned about your children getting cavities, contact your Wake Forest dentist today. As one of the premier Raleigh, NC area pediatric dental practices, we have assisted thousands of children to address cavities early and, more importantly, maintain a healthy smile to avoid cavities altogether.