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The Pediatric Dentist

By the time kids reach their late teens, 80% of them will have dental caries/cavities. The good news is that there are steps that you and your child can take to help prevent tooth decay. The key is to start intervention early and to get your kids involved in taking care of their own teeth.

What is tooth decay (caries or cavities)?

Tooth decay is the disease known as caries or cavities - a highly preventable disease caused by many factors. Some children may inherit from their parents "good teeth" and never develop cavities. But more importantly, what the child eats will determine his/her chance of developing cavities. Sugar and starch in foods are the substances that cause damage to the tooth. The bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar and starch and produce an acid that can eat through the teeth, leading to tooth decay.

Who is at risk for tooth decay?

We all host bacteria in our mouths which makes everyone a potential target for cavities. Risk factors that put a person at a higher risk for tooth decay include:

  • diets high in sweets, carbohydrates, and sugars
  • water supplies with limited or no fluoridation
  • age (children and senior citizens are at an increased risk for tooth decay)
What are the symptoms of tooth decay and dental caries?

The following are the most common symptoms of tooth decay and dental caries. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include white spots on the teeth that appear first. Then, an early cavity appears that has a light brown color on the tooth. The tooth color progressively becomes darker.

How are dental caries diagnosed?

Dental caries are usually diagnosed based on a complete history and physical examination of your child. This may be performed by your child's physician or your child's dentist.

Preventing tooth decay

Preventing tooth decay and cavities involves five simple steps:

  1. Brush your child's teeth, tongue, and gums twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste, or supervise them brushing their teeth.
  2. Floss your child's teeth daily after the age of 2.
  3. Make sure your child eats a well-balanced diet and limit or eliminate sugary snacks.
  4. Consult your child's physician or dentist regarding the supplemental use of fluoride and/or dental sealants to protect your child's teeth against plaque.
  5. Schedule routine (every six months) dental cleanings and examinations for your child.
Treatment for tooth decay

Specific treatment for tooth decay will be determined by your child's physician or dentist based on:

  • your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference
Treatment, in most cases, requires removing the caries and replacing the lost substance of the tooth with a filling.

For More Information

American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry

CDC Oral Health site

Separate oral health websites for parents, teens, and kids


The Children's Hospital at Montefiore

Keeping Kids Healthy

New York City Department of Health

The American Academy of Pediatrics

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