Thankfully, children are free of many of the chronic diseases that plague older populations. That said, one of the most common chronic diseases children do face is tooth decay. If left untreated, this can cause pain or infection.
In extreme cases, these infections can spread to the blood and damage the heart, occasionally resulting in death. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) note that children with poor oral health miss more school and receive lower grades than children with good oral hygiene.
In children between the ages of 5 and 11, about 20% have at least one untreated decaying tooth In adolescents, that number drops to 13%. Children in low-income families are more than twice as likely to have cavities when compared to children from higher incomes (at 25 and 11%, respectively).
Luckily, tooth decay is preventable. Fluoride varnish, fluoridated tap water, and regular brushing can all reduce the amount of cavities a child may develop. Dental sealants applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth are also helpful in cavity prevention.
For infants, parents are advised to wipe the gums twice a day with a soft, clean cloth. This is best done following the first feeding of the day and just before bedtime. Once teeth start coming in, they can be brushed using a soft, small-bristled brush, toothpaste, and water twice daily.
Parents should also have children see a dentist before their first birthday to check for potential problems with teeth and gums.
When cavities do develop, symptoms include toothache, tooth sensitivity, pain when eating or drinking, visible holes or pits in the teeth, and staining on the surface of a tooth.
Some causes of tooth decay include consuming too many sugary snacks or beverages, poor oral hygiene, and the absence of fluoride in tap water.
Tooth decay can be diagnosed by a dentist during routine examinations. This is done via imaging, visual examination, and through the use of metal probes.
To adequately protect children’s oral health, it is best to start the bushing habit early, and to be a great example.
The above video from TED-Ed, goes into detail about the formation of cavities.