Cavities/Decay

What is a cavity?

A cavity is a hole in a tooth caused by the disease process known as “tooth decay.”

What do cavities look like?

Cavities vary in appearance and evolve over time, but typically look like dark spots, holes, or chips in the teeth. They usually have a yellow, brown or black appearance and can be as small as a tiny dot or as large as the entire tooth.

How do I know if my child has a cavity?

Depending on the size and location, a cavity may not be visible to you in your child’s mouth. Cavities that are in between teeth or on the back surfaces can be difficult to see at home, but are easily seen with the right dental equipment and x-rays. When you bring your child to the dentist for a check-up every six months, he or she will be evaluated for cavities. In between appointments, if your child complains of a toothache or you see a hole, dark spot, or chip, you should come in right away. Waiting can cause the cavity to grow in size and severity, and the treatment can become more invasive.

What causes cavities?

There are several causes of tooth decay including diet, oral hygiene, and genetics.  Typical dietary causes include foods that are sticky, sugary, or starchy, and drinks that are sugary and/or acidic.  Pediatricians and Pediatric Dentists alike recommend the weaning of infants from the use of a bottle or breastfeeding at will by the age of 1. Typical oral hygiene causes include improper brushing techniques, not brushing often enough, and not flossing. Some children still get cavities even with a great diet and oral hygiene because the bacteria in their mouths is aggressive. If your child has a cavity, the dentist will discuss his or her diet and oral hygiene routine with you to see if any adjustments need to be made.

How do I prevent cavities?

Monitoring your child’s diet and overseeing their oral hygiene routine are the best things you can do to prevent cavities. Around the age of 6 or 7, most children have the manual dexterity to brush and floss properly, but until then, you should be helping them daily. A good rule of thumb is if your child cannot tie shoelaces independently, he or she should not be brushing independently either. In children who have a genetic predisposition to decay, the dentist may recommend a prescription toothpaste or fluoride to help prevent decay. Dental sealants are also recommended for most children on their 6 and 12 year molars.

How are cavities on baby teeth fixed?

Cavities on baby teeth are just like cavities on permanent teeth, and when they’re caught early, they can be fixed with simple tooth-colored fillings. When they become large, they may require a crown, pulp therapy (like a baby root canal), or an extraction.

 

If a cavity is on a baby tooth, do I have to fix it?

In most cases, the answer is yes. When left alone, most cavities will become bigger and start to cause pain, and treatment can change from a simple filling to something more invasive and cosmetically undesirable like a root canal with a stainless steel crown or an extraction. Sometimes if the dentist sees a cavity that is either very small or on a tooth that your child is likely to lose soon, he or she may decide to monitor the tooth instead of fixing it.