How to Prevent Cavities

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How to Prevent Cavities 

Cavities can often lead to tooth decay and childhood periodontitis if left untreated.  Ensuring that children eat a balanced diet, following a regular home oral care routine, and biannually visiting the dentist are vital factors for cavity prevention.

What causes cavities?

Cavities, also known as tooth decay and caries, form when children’s teeth are routinely exposed to food without regular brushing.  Sugars, even those naturally occurring in healthy foods, collect on and around the teeth after eating.  A sticky film (plaque) then forms on the tooth enamel.  The oral bacteria within the plaque continually ingest sugar particles and emit acid.  Initially, the acid attacks the tooth enamel, weakening it and leaving it vulnerable to tooth decay.  If the sugar particles and acid are not brushed from the teeth, the acid begins to penetrate the tooth enamel and erodes the inner part of the tooth.

Although primary (baby) teeth are eventually lost, they fulfill several important functions, such as helping children chew and speak clearly, and should be protected.  It is essential that children brush and floss twice per day (ideally more), and visit the dentist for biannual cleanings.  Sometimes, the dentist coats teeth with a sealant and provides fluoride supplements to further protect the teeth.

How will I know if my child has a cavity?

Large cavities may be visible to the naked eye.  However, tiny cavities can be more difficult to spot and sometimes form between the teeth.  Dental X-rays and the dentist’s trained eyes can pinpoint the tiniest of cavities so they can be treated before they worsen.

Some of the major symptoms of cavities include:

  • Heightened sensitivity to cool or warm foods
  • Nighttime waking and crying
  • Pain
  • Sensitivity to spicy foods
  • Toothache

If a child is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to visit our office.  Waiting to "see how it goes" may make the problem worse, leaves the child in pain, and may jeopardize a tooth that could have been easily treated.

How can I prevent cavities at home?

  1. Review the child's diet – Too many sugary, starchy, or carbohydrate-rich snacks and drinks can accelerate cavity formation.  Replace these snacks with fresh, natural foods where possible, and replace juice and soda with water.
  2. Cut the snacks – Snacking too frequently can expose teeth to sugars that naturally occur in foods, even healthy foods.  Depending on the age of the child, limit snacks to once or twice during the day and try to avoid all-day "grazing."
  3. Transition from the sippy cup – Sippy cups may cause “baby bottle tooth decay” when they are used beyond the intended age.  The small amount of liquid (milk, juice, formula) emitted with each sip causes sugary liquid to continually swirl around the teeth.
  4. Avoid stickiness – Sticky foods (like hard candies and gummies) form plaque quickly and are extremely difficult to remove from the teeth.  Avoid them when possible.
  5. Drink plenty of water  Water is free of sugars and can help cleanse the teeth.
  6. Drinks at bedtime – Avoid sending your child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup.  The milk, formula, juice, or sweetened water sits on the teeth all night, attacking enamel and increasing the risk of cavities.  Give your child a last drink before bedtime, and then brush his/her teeth.
  7. Brush and floss – Parents should brush and floss their child’s teeth at least twice each day until the child reaches the age of eight years old.  Before this time, children struggle to effectively brush every area of the mouth.
  8. Fluoride – When used correctly, fluoride can strengthen tooth enamel and help prevent cavities.  Too much or too little fluoride can harm the teeth, so ask Dr. Day and his team for a fluoride assessment.
  9. Keep dental appointments – The child’s first dental visit should be scheduled around his or her first birthday, as per the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) guidelines.  A regular appointment schedule can help your child keep his/her healthy smile!

If you have questions or concerns about cavity prevention, please contact our office at 517-393-8500.

Day Family Dental

Dr. Nathan Day, DMD • Dentist • Lansing, MI


We combine experience with the latest in dental technology to deliver the best patient experience possible.