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What causes tooth decay in young children and how can it be avoided?

Dr. Ryan Roberts answers the 6 most common questions.

1.  How often do children get cavities?

Tooth decay is the number one most common disease of childhood. It’s five to eight times more common than asthma.

Dr. Ryan Roberts, MS DDS --- Board Certified Pediatric Dentist

Dr. Ryan Roberts, DDS MS — Board Certified Pediatric Dentist

2.  How do cavities form?

In order to have a cavity, you have to have three things:

a. You have to have a tooth
b. You have to have the bugs that cause decay
c. And you have to have the food that the bugs eat to cause decay

So if you don’t have those three things, you can’t get a cavity.

3.  What causes cavities?

The most common causes of cavities I see are sugary drinks that are taken either at nighttime or throughout the day or frequent snacking in between meals.

A sugary drink, for example, would be milk or chocolate milk or any type of juice – those are the most common types of sugary drinks that I see for kids.

Another cause is when children snack too frequently.

It takes about 45 minutes for your child’s mouth to balance out the acid after she eats something. So if your child is snacking every 30 to 45 minutes, even if it’s a healthy snack like fruit or cheese or crackers, it can still cause decay or problems because there are natural sugars in all of those things.

4.  I have soft teeth.  Will my child have soft teeth too?

There is a genetic component in almost everything from parents to their children.

However, for cavities it’s mainly an environmental component – the environment that the teeth are in.

Most often a child has cavity-causing bacteria that has been passed down from the parent. Those cavity-causing bacteria are often passed from mom to baby during infancy, and in some cases from sibling to sibling.

So it’s actually the bacteria that we pass down to our children that cause decay and not so much genetics.

5.  How can I protect my child from cavity-causing bacteria?

For one thing, it’s important for little ones to avoid saliva-sharing activities.

For example, when your child drops the pacifier, and you pick it up, clean it off, put it in your mouth and then in your child’s mouth. That’s a classic example of sharing bacteria with your child.

Or tasting from the spoon and then allowing your child to use that same spoon… or sharing drinks… those are all activities that can pass bacteria down.

This is especially true if you have untreated decay or active cavities. That means you have that “bad” bacteria that you are thoroughly infecting your child with.

6.  What about breast milk?

Breast milk alone is not associated with early or severe decay, however, when your child starts eating from the table and continues to have breast milk whenever they like, then that is associated with severe decay.

So for example if your child is eating from the table and is also nursing, that is still a source of sugar or carbohydrates and can cause severe decay in young children.

Got a question about your child’s dental health?

We’re here to help! Feel free to call us at 918.921.8822 with any questions or concerns you have.

(Yes, we answer the phone on evenings and weekends.)

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