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4 Keys to Preventing Cavities in Kids

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A young boy in a dentist's chair with a dental instrument in his open mouth.

Over the last 28 years, I’ve seen a lot of families in my practice and a lot of parents that are a little frustrated because their kids have cavities. It seems like every time they  come in. And this can be really frustrating because cavities are really an infection. They’re caused by bacteria. And some kids are going to deal with that and others aren’t. It really depends if they’re infected with the bacteria or if their immune system is able to fight those bacteria off. It’s all around whether they’ve had an exposure and whether their immune system makes an antibody that actually kills those bacteria.

But if a child has cavities, if an adult has cavities, it means that there’s a certain type of bacteria, primarily Streptococcus mutans, that is involved in producing those cavities.

So, what can we do? Here are four things that a parent can do to help prevent cavities in their children. This is really just a review. But it’s important that you get all four of them together, not just one or two.

Limit sugars

First of all, you have to limit the simple sugars and simple carbohydrate intake. So that means of course anything like fruit juices, soda pop especially, even milk. If a child goes to bed with milk on their teeth, there are certain types of sugars (lactose) that is in that. The problem with sugars is that they all feed the bacteria that cause cavities. Then the bacteria produce acid and the acid is what dissolves the teeth and forms cavities. So, we want to basically starve those bacteria. You want to be really careful with that. We’ve done a blog earlier on reducing sugar intake in kids, so you might want to check that out for some tips.

Now, even things like crackers and bread, things that stick to the teeth can have carbohydrates. And, of course, we’re not saying that we shouldn’t have those or

shouldn’t feed some of those things to our kids, but we do want to be careful with sugar intake for multiple reasons. But that’s the number one thing, to try to really limit the sugar and simple carbohydrate intake, especially in between meals. Try to keep it with meals as much as possible.

Brush teeth regularly

Then, number two, we want to brush them away. That’s really what brushing’s all about. Yes, it removes some of those sticky substances and those sugar films off of the teeth. It also removes some of the bacteria that are forming on the teeth, and that’s very  important, because, again, if they sit there, they’re going to make acid from the sugars and that waste product, which is acid, is going to dissolve into the teeth.

So, we want to have a really good brushing routine. It should be twice a day, not once a day, morning and night. Because at night the saliva flow dramatically decreases by about 90 percent and that allows bacteria to thrive. It’s not being flushed away or neutralized by the saliva, so that’s super important. (Read some tips on making tooth brushing a fun activity for kids).

Clean between the teeth

Number three, you have to clean in between the teeth somehow. That’s a third of the tooth surfaces and that’s where I see most of the cavities in kids, is in between the teeth. Flossing is hard with kids, but there are some great floss tools, floss pickers that are designed for kids. And almost every kid can handle a water pick. You can get them comfortable using those if at least that does some flushing from between the teeth if they’re able to use it correctly. That just depends on the age and maturity of the child and their own coordination with, you know, a water pick. If they don’t have water fights with their brothers or sisters. That’s always a possibility, right?

Read some tips I talked about earlier about teeth brushing in kids. So, that’s three things right there that you can do.

Keep up with routine dental checkups

The fourth thing is you really have to make a commitment to getting in to see your dentist and your hygienist, because cavities in baby teeth progress very rapidly in many cases and then become fairly serious quickly. And they can cause abscesses and all kinds of problems. So, those preventive visits are really important to get a checkup. And a lot of times if you’re open to it, they’ll apply a fluoride varnish to the teeth which hardens those teeth, turns them into a little bit more of an armor, more resistant to those acids, the sugars, the bacteria. Or recommend dental sealants for kids. All of that as well.

So, those are just, you know, four things that are really important to do all together to help prevent cavities in children and set them up for a lifetime of good dental health.

Here at Express Dentist, we do have a network of dentists around the country, and many of them are happy to see families, happy to see you and your children. Give us a call let us know what you need, what type of dentist you’re looking for, maybe you want a children’s dentist in particular, or maybe you just want a family dentist that sees all ages. Maybe you want answers to your questions, for example, how thumb-sucking may be affecting your child’s dental health or the risks associated with pacifier use. Let us know and we will help get you connected. Here’s to you and your family’s dental health.

About the author

Dr Greg Grillo
Dr. Greg Grillo

Dr. Greg Grillo DDS studied at the University of Washington where he received a bachelors degree with Honors and later attended dental school on the same campus. Following school Dr. Greg served in the United States Navy as a dental officer. During this time he received advanced training in specialty areas of dentistry while also treating families of members of the military.

As well as sharing valuable information on dentistry and oral health, Dr. Greg remains a practicing dentist to this day. He works with families in the Okanogan Valley where he lives with his wife and three children.

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