What Are Cavities, and How Can I Prevent Them?

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What are cavities?

Cavities occur when bacteria and food left on the teeth after eating are not brushed away. Acid collects on a tooth, softening its enamel until a hole – or cavity – forms. Regular use of fluoride toughens the enamel, making it more difficult for acid to penetrate.

Although many towns require tap water to be fluoridated, others don’t. If your water supply is not fluoridated or if your family uses purified water, ask your pediatric dentist for fluoride supplements. Most toothpastes contain fluoride, but toothpaste alone will not fully protect a child’s teeth. Be careful, however, since too much fluoride can cause tooth discoloration. Check with your pediatric dentist before supplementing.

Discoloration also can occur from prolonged use of antibiotics and some children’s medications that contain a large amount of sugar. Parents should encourage children to brush after they take their medicine, particularly if the prescription will be used for a long time.

Brushing at least twice a day and routine flossing will help maintain a healthy mouth. Children as young as age 2 or 3 can begin to use toothpaste when brushing, under supervision. Children should not use a lot of toothpaste – a pea-sized amount for toddlers is just right. Parents should always make sure that their child spits out the toothpaste instead of swallowing.

As your child’s permanent teeth grow in, your pediatric dentist can help seal out decay by applying a thin wash of resin to the back teeth, where most chewing occurs. Known as a sealant, this protective coating keeps bacteria from settling in the hard-to-reach crevices of the molars.

Dental research has resulted in better preventive techniques, including fillings and sealants that seep fluoride; but seeing a pediatric dentist is only part of good tooth care. Home care is equally important. For example, sealants on the teeth do not mean that a child can eat lots of sweets or skip daily brushing and flossing – parents must work with their children to teach good oral health habits

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Preventing cavities

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child’s first visit to the pediatric dentist take place by the first birthday. At this visit, the pediatric dentist will explain proper brushing and flossing techniques (you need to floss once your baby has two teeth that touch) and conduct a modified exam while your baby sits on your lap.

Such visits can help in the early detection of potential problems and help children become used to visiting their pediatric dentist, so they’ll have less fear about going as they grow older.

If a child seems to be at risk for cavities or other problems, your pediatric dentist may start applying topical fluoride even before all teeth come in. Fluoride hardens the tooth enamel, helping to ward off the most common childhood oral disease – cavities (also called caries).

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