What Causes Cavities and Tooth Decay?

What Causes Cavities and Tooth Decay

When we think of good oral hygiene, the first thing most of us think of is probably protecting ourselves against cavities and tooth decay. This is just as true when it comes to caring for your child’s teeth as it is for your own. Although baby teeth, or primary teeth, do eventually come out and get replaced by “big kid” adult teeth, cavities and tooth decay can still have a significant negative impact on oral health, increasing the risk of infection and other issues.

Learning more about cavities and tooth decay, including what they are, what causes them, and how to prevent both, can go a long way to promoting a happy and healthy smile for your little one.

What is tooth decay?

The term tooth decay refers to damage and breakdown of the enamel of the teeth. The enamel is the thin clear surface of the teeth that helps protect the bone, or dentin, on the crown of the teeth. The primary cause of tooth decay in the mouth is acids that are produced by bacteria.

Your mouth has a very large number of microscopic bacteria living in it at any time. While some of these bacteria are helpful and help you digest food and fight off infection, others can contribute to tooth decay and eventually cavities.

What are cavities?

Cavities, or dental caries, are small holes that can develop in the teeth as a result of tooth decay. A cavity can cause severe pain if it leads to an infection, or exposes nerves in the pulp of the teeth. Cavities can also lead to tooth loss, and other issues that can negatively impact overall oral health.

While baby teeth, or milk teeth, do fall out naturally, cavities and tooth decay in children should still be avoided at all costs. By understanding the causes and risk factors, you, your child, and your dentist can all work together to prevent tooth decay and cavities, and treat them in a timely manner if they do occur.

Understanding the Causes and Risk Factors of Cavities and Tooth Decay

Harmful bacteria can get mixed in with the food we eat, forming a substance called plaque that adheres to our teeth. As these bacteria digest food particles, especially sugar and starch, it creates acid as a byproduct. This acid is what eats away at the tooth enamel and causes decay and eventually cavities if untreated.

Reducing the risk for cavities and tooth decay is a complex balance between multiple factors, including protective factors and risk factors. Some of the risk factors for tooth decay include:

  • Frequent snacking on carbohydrates and sugary foods and drinks, particularly before bed
  • Close family members who have cavities, or a family history of tooth decay
  • Saliva reducing factors, particularly certain medicines
  • Drinking from a bottle into toddlerhood, particularly sugar drinks and juice
  • Lack of fluoride

By not getting the right balance between these risk factors and protective and preventive measures, it’s easier for your child to experience tooth decay and to get cavities.

Protective Factors and Reducing Cavity Risk

To prevent tooth decay and cavities, it’s critical to understand and practice protective factors. Most pediatric dentists recommend:

  • Practicing good oral hygiene, including flossing, rinsing, and brushing
  • High frequency of drinking fluoridated water and/or using fluoride toothpaste
  • Routine dental care with an experienced pediatric dentist

It’s important for you to receive routine dental care so your dentist can catch the cavities while they’re smaller and easier to treat. You can also work with your dentist to make a good protection plan so you don’t get any more cavities.

A typical dental examination will consist of an evaluation of the condition of your child’s teeth and gums. This includes checking the teeth for cavities, position, and formation. The dentist will also examine gum tissue and general oral health. The bite relationship will be evaluated to determine development patterns.

Applying topical fluoride is a key protective measure that dentists can employ. Additionally, sealants, bonding, root canal treatment, and even tooth extraction can be performed as needed to treat tooth decay and/or cavities when they develop.

Keep Your Family’s Teeth Healthy with the Help of AC Pediatric Dentistry

Going to the dentist can be scary — we get it. But it should be fun! Whether it’s care for baby teeth, big kid teeth, oral surgery, or orthodontics, our team of specialized pediatric dentists make the experience memorable while teaching you how to encourage healthy habits and good hygiene for lifelong smiles. Call us today or request an appointment online. We can’t wait to meet you!

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