Tooth Decay In Children: Causes, Signs and Treatment


Tooth decay is the damage caused to the tooth by germs that produce acid in our mouth and attack the teeth. This can result in a hole in the tooth called cavity. The cavity causes pain, infection and tooth loss.

What Causes Tooth Decay in Kids?

When we eat food, some of the food particles get stuck in the teeth creating a sticky layer called ‘plaque’. This plaque has bacteria that feed on the sugar in the food we eat. Once the bacteria start feeding, it produces acids. These acids attack the teeth causing damage to the enamel which results in tooth decay. Some of the causes of tooth decay are:

  • Food Habits: Tooth decay in children is caused due to the changing food habits. Excess sugar content in our children’s food affects their teeth. Kids usually like sweets, chocolates, ice creams and other sugar enriched foods making them susceptible to tooth decay.

child enjoying a chocolate

  • Drinks: The intake of juices, soft drinks, sports drinks and milk can cause cavities as well. The kids who drink these beverages frequently are prone to infections as their teeth will get coated with these drinks. The bacteria settle in pits and grooves of the teeth and produces acids to damage the teeth resulting in cavities.

girl drinking a soft drink

  • Medical Conditions: Some medical conditions may increase the risk of cavities too. If your child is suffering from chronic allergies, he or she may opt for mouth breathing, which interferes with the flow of saliva. When the flow of saliva decreases, the chances of cavities will increase.
  • Bedtime Feeding: When infants are given milk bottles at night time filled with milk, juice and other sugar-containing liquids, these liquids sit on their teeth for hours and feed the bacteria. This damage to teeth is called baby tooth decay. Same can happen to the toddlers when they drink from a sippy cup filled with these liquids. Tooth decay in toddlers is a common health concern and needs efficient treatment.

baby drinking while lying on bed

  • Deficiency of Fluoride: Fluoride is a natural mineral which helps in avoiding cavities and reverse the effect of tooth damage in the initial stage. This mineral is used in public water supplies, toothpaste and mouth rinse.

Signs of Tooth Decay

Signs of tooth decay are not experienced in the early stage. It shows its signs when a cavity is developed. The signs are

  • A toothache which occurs while eating or biting food items
  • Sensitivity in teeth
  • Spontaneous pain without any reason
  • Holes in teeth
  • Change in colour of the teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Swelling of the gums

If your kid is suffering from a toothache, consult a dentist immediately. If you don’t take any treatment, the pain will subside, but the decay won’t stop. If you do not read the early signs of baby bottle tooth decay, then the cavity will increase, and the tooth will die.

Treatments for Tooth Decay

The treatment procedures for tooth decay depend upon the condition of the tooth. Frequent check-ups can diagnose the problem in the early stage prevent severe damage. Many treatment options are available such as:

  • Fluoride Treatment: Fluoride treatment helps in restoring the enamel damage. Enamel damage is the initial stage of tooth decay as you can see spots on the teeth during this stage. The fluoride gel or varnish is used to cover the spots and to give the required minerals for the teeth. Fluoride toothpaste will be prescribed to repair the tooth and reverse the effect of the decay.

Child receive fluoride medicine in the mouth

  • Fillings: Fillings are used to fill the cavities which have crossed the first stage. The damaged portion is removed and is filled with amalgam or ceramic resin. These are made of many materials like tooth colour composite resins, dental or porcelain amalgam.

  child teeth filling

  • Crowns: Crowns are used for the majorly damaged teeth. This is a custom fitted covering that restores the tooth’s natural cover. In this procedure, the dentist drills and removes the decayed part and fills it with medicated fillings. Then to prepare the crowns, the measurement is taken by using clay or porcelain. These crowns are placed on the teeth to protect from further damage.

Silver crown teeth in young girl  child mouth

  • Root Canals: The tooth decay enters into the inner layer of the tooth called pulp. Once the pulp damaged, the tooth may have to be removed. To stop that, you can go for root canal treatment. In this procedure, the infected part is removed, and medicated fillings are used to fill in the gap. The dentist will repeat the filling procedure for 2-3 sittings to stop the recurrence of infection. After that, the crowning procedure can be opted for, as the strength of the tooth will be less and to protect that tooth there is a need to use the crown.

root canal of a child

  • Teeth Extraction: If the tooth is damaged a lot and can’t be restored due to the infection, it must be extracted. It may lead to further damage to other teeth if you try to do something by yourself. You can go for an implant or bridge to fill the gap after the tooth extraction.

dental extraction of a boy

How to Prevent Child Tooth Decay?

Prevention of tooth decay in children can be done by following these methods suggested below

  1. Regular brushing can reduce the generation of plaque and germs in the mouth, which in turn reduces the risk of cavities. Habituate your kid to brush for two times in a day, in the morning and at bedtime.
  2. Infant’s mouth should be cleaned by wiping it with a clean and smooth cloth. Once they start developing teeth, brush his or her teeth with soft baby toothbrush mildly using fluoride toothpaste.
  3. Don’t let your child or baby sleep with a bottle or food in their mouth. This will lead to exposure of teeth to sugars, resulting in infection, choking and tooth decay.
  4. Don’t give liquids for long periods to your child to drink in a sippy cup or bottle. Instead of sugary drinks, give them water to drink.
  5. Use fluoridated water to protect your child’s teeth from infection. Drinking water contains this mineral naturally. If you are using non-fluoridated water, consult your dentist to get a supplement of fluoride.
  6. Habituate your child to drink liquids from a cup or glass as early as possible after completing one year of age. Taking liquids from a cup or glass will decrease the risk of cavities.
  7. Keep control of the sugary foods your child eats regularly. Foods like chips, candies, jellies, cookies, fruit rolls, etc. contain sugars, and these foods are a threat if consumed in excess.
  8. Stop sharing spoons with your child. Infants don’t have any bacteria in their mouth from birth. By sharing spoons while checking the taste of food, you inadvertently transfer bacteria to your kid’s mouth.
  9. Maintain your oral health which will lead to fewer chances of transfer of infections and breeding of bacteria.
  10. Consult your dentist and allow them to check your child’s teeth condition when your child is at the age of one year. This will reduce the risk of any infections to the primary teeth.

Does Making Changes in My Child’s Diet Help in Preventing Tooth Decay?

Some of the dietary changes that can be made include:

  • Give fruits and vegetables to your child instead of carbohydrate-rich foods. Pears, melons, celery, and cucumbers are best to give as they are rich in fibre and low on sugars. Banana and raisins contain sugars, so use them in a limited manner.

kid having fruits

  • Cheese can be added to the diet plan of your child as it helps in the production of saliva. It can be given with the lunch items.
  • Skip sticky and chewy foods as they are likely to spread bacteria in the mouth. If your kid eats these foods, brush their teeth immediately after eating.

Tips for Oral Hygiene

For healthy teeth, here are simple tips for oral hygiene.

  • Regular Brushing
  • Selecting a proper brush
  • Regular flossing
  • Using mouthwash
  • Proper cleaning of brush
  • Changing your toothbrush after three months
  • Using a tongue scraper to keep your tongue clean
  • Stop frequent snacking
  • Avoiding sharing of utensils and cutlery with other children
  • Avoiding food with high sugar content
  • Avoiding late night snacking after they have brushed their teeth
  • Taking your child to the dentist every three months if possible

Natural Remedies

Some of the remedies used to tackle tooth decay include:

  • Garlic:

garlic bulbs
It helps fight off bacteria in the mouth and simultaneously increases the strength of the gums.

  • Salt:
    Through the power of osmosis, salt can suck out the life of bacteria.

sea salt

  • Turmeric:
    Its anti-inflammatory properties help to alleviate the pain caused by cavities.

turmeric powder

If you are able to find the tooth infection in early stage and get it treated in time, your child’s teeth can be saved from damage and suffering. There are many treatments available out there due to the latest technology.