Tooth Decay in Children

Tooth decay is bad news. It can cause your child pain and discomfort. It can also affect eating, speaking and sleeping. The good news is that tooth decay is pretty easy to avoid with good dental care and tooth-friendly eating and drinking.

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay is also called dental caries. It’s a diet-related disease that damages teeth.

Tooth decay happens when germs in the mouth create a sticky covering called plaque on the tooth surface. These germs feed on sugars in food and drinks and produce an acid that damages the tooth surface. Over time, this acid eats away at the surface of the tooth, creating holes or ‘cavities’.

Tooth decay can cause pain and infection. It can even affect children’s growth. Severe decay in baby teeth can have serious consequences for your child’s speech and jaw development.

The longer tooth decay is left untreated, the more your child will experience:

  • pain and discomfort 

  • a higher risk of new decay in other baby and adult teeth

  • more complicated and expensive treatment

  • anxiety when he does visit a dentist, because he might start to associate dentists with pain

  • Loss of time at school.

Early signs of tooth decay

Early tooth decay can be hard to spot.

The first sign of tooth decay is when teeth develop a dull, white band along the gum line (the area at the base of the teeth, near the gums). In early stages of decay you might see brown spots on the teeth, and the gums might be red and swollen.

In more advanced stages of tooth decay, blackened areas show up on the teeth, and the gums still look red and swollen.

Getting help for tooth decay

If you think your child has tooth decay it’s important to visit a dentist to stop the decay from getting worse.

If you’re eligible, the Australian Government’s Child Dental Benefit Schedule covers basic dental services for children aged 2-17 years.

Preventing tooth decay with good dental care

Brushing teeth twice a day, flossing, using fluoride toothpaste, eating a healthy and nutritious diet, and having regular dental check-ups with the dentist are essential steps towards preventing tooth decay.

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Cristy Houghton