Tooth decay in children is very common due to increased sugar intake in the form of candies, juices, and sweets. If tooth decay in children is left unnoticed, it may lead to some serious complications in future.
What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is the decay in the structure of a tooth that occurs due to the attack of acidogenic bacteria in the presence of sugar substrates. When a sticky layer of bacteria called plaque adheres to the surface of the tooth, bacteria in it start producing acids by digesting carbohydrates from your diet. This acid starts to demineralize enamel of the tooth, making it softer. Enamel is the outermost and strongest layer of the teeth.
Now, there exists a cycle between mineralization and demineralization. If the demineralization is left untreated, it will progress to form a cavity. Which is an actual hole in the tooth surface. It can grow with time if no treatment is sought and the acid production continues, getting so big that the entire tooth’s structural integrity is lost.
Causes of Tooth Decay in Children
What are the causes of tooth decay in children? The main cause of tooth decay remains the same irrespective of age, that is acid production by bacteria. In children, several factors come to play that increase this production.
Poor Oral Hygiene: While this may be the case for adults as well as children, it is more so in children. As they are not properly taught the importance of brushing and maintaining good oral hygiene. No child likes to spend a good amount of time and effort in doing so. For them it is merely a practice they must do because their parents ask them to. The ideal brushing technique for children must be taught, an appropriate toothpaste and toothbrush must be chosen for them.
Increased Sugar Intake: Needless to say, nobody consumes sugar like children. Apart from other sources of carbohydrates in their diet, they are given sweets, candies, chocolates, juices, cakes, pastries and everything else packed with sugar. To ask that this be stopped or limited is futile. So instead of banning kids from eating all these sweets, parents’ focus should be on educating their child on how they need to brush properly afterwards. As long as the child keeps his teeth clean, removes impacted food or sticky candies stuck to teeth, he or she can prevent plaque formation.
Mineralization of Teeth in Children: A child’s tooth structure is not as mineralized as an adult’s, hence prone to decay.
Signs and Symptoms of Tooth Decay in Children:
Tooth decay in children begins as a whitish spot on the tooth surface. It then starts becoming brownish in color and continues to grow darker as more time lapses without treatment. Until finally it is not just a discolored spot or patch, but has also eroded deeper into the tooth forming a cavity.
The child may not complain to his or her parents even with the lesion getting darker and worse. Sometimes the child will be asymptomatic. Whereas at other times he or she will experience sensitivity to sugary foods and pain around that tooth.
It is always advisable to check your child’s teeth for any visible signs of tooth decay before it goes unnoticed and leads to more serious complications.
Guidelines on How to Prevent Tooth Decay in Children:
A parent’s active participation and concern is very important in not only preventing tooth decay in childhood but also in developing habits that will keep teeth healthy throughout one’s life.
Try and avoid giving your child extra sweets, candies and other sugary junk food. Avoid letting strangers, friends, other members of the family from spoiling your child by providing them with these at odd times. Limit how much they take because it is not only beneficial for teeth but also for their general health.
Make sure that your child is regular at brushing their teeth at least twice a day. Before the age of 3, he/ she needs only a rice grain amount of fluoride toothpaste and a soft bristles brush. Teach your child the proper way to brush so as to completely clean teeth.
It is also important that as the child grows, a habit of cleaning the tongue and flossing be also developed.
It is a very common mistake to let the children sleep with the feeder bottle still in their mouth. This is especially to be avoided. The lactose in milk is also used by bacteria as a substrate to produce acids. It leads to a very rampant form of caries that is extremely bad for the child’s dentition.
Also avoid sharing any cooking utensils and spoons with your child to avoid transfer of bacteria from your mouth to theirs.
Treatment of Tooth Decay in Children:
Treatment of tooth decay in children is determined after the symptoms, extent of decay and child’s age have been established.
Sometimes if the oral hygiene is improved and other methods of prevention are used, tooth decay gets arrested. The child then goes on to lose his or her milk teeth and permanent disease-free teeth erupt.
But in case intervention is needed due to the symptoms and worsening state of tooth, the tooth needs to be “restored”. This is done by removing decayed part of the tooth and replacing it with a filling material.
When to See a Dentist:
The same way as concerned parents take their child for a general health check up to a pediatrician, they should also consult a dentist. The best time to see one is BEFORE something goes wrong so that it can be prevented. Rather than seeing your child suffer and then going for a procedure.
There are various fluoride treatments that are available for kids as well as for adults. A dentist should be asked to guide you in this matter. Fluoride is crucial to the health of teeth.
If tooth decay has begun, consult a dentist and see what options are available for treatment now. The sooner you go, the better. More serious problems can be avoided if the initial decay process can be spotted and taken care of immediately.