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Nobody enjoys having a cavity, least of all children. Yet the latest data from the Academy of General Dentistry shows that cavities are increasing among U.S. preschoolers. Here are some tips for cavity prevention that will help your child buck this trend and earn kudos from the dentist during your next visit.

What causes cavities?

Cavities are caused when food particles or bacteria sit on the teeth for too long and begin to eat away at the enamel, much like a hot rock placed on a piece of rubber will slowly start burning a hole through it. As one food particle begins to eat away at a tooth, it forms a tiny little divot that can then trap other food particles which eat away at that area. As this process continues over and over again, it starts to eat away a sizeable portion of the tooth, resulting in a cavity.

Any type of food particle can contribute to this, but not all food particles are created equal. Some are rather harmless whereas others are much more acidic and corrosive. The obvious culprits are candy, sugary foods and sodas, sour or citrus foods, and so on, but other types of food bacteria can also contribute to cavities.

Tooth decay is also created by the bacteria that feed on sugar. These bacteria deplete the calcium in teeth. When the decalisified area becomes large enough, the surface caves in and your child develops a cavity.

How to tell if your child has a cavity

The first signs of tooth decay are usually discoloration near the gum line, accompanied by depressions anywhere around the tooth surface. If left untreated, this will turn into spots of brown or black, or develop into holes in a child’s tooth.

What types of candies cause the most cavities?

We all know that sugar is bad for the teeth. But certain types of candies are more problematic than others, because they stick to the teeth and get caught in hard to clean places. “Candies like Skittles and Starburst are the ones to avoid because they’re sticky and dissolve slowly in the mouth,” says Samuel Papino, D.D.S. (Parents, Oct. 2011, p. 29) Chocolate candies that dissolve easily are much better than things like taffy, since they don’t stick to the teeth as much.

This doesn’t mean you have to eliminate chewy candies, just limit them, and have children rinse their mouth with water afterwards to try and rinse away sugary residue that gets stuck to their teeth. Snacking on something like a few crackers afterwards can also help remove any stuck-on candy.

Things parents can do to prevent cavities in children

  1. Never fill up bottles or sippy cups with soda, and limit their use with juice. It should be milk or water only, particularly if you send a child to bed with it. Juice or soda in these containers is inviting a mouth full of cavities, because they encourage kids to graze on the beverage all day long, taking a sip, setting it down,coming back 5 minutes later for another. It’s like bathing a child’s teeth in soda24/7.
  2. Try to limit how often you give kids high-carbohydrate snacks like crackers, cereal, chips, or pretzels. These ultimately break down into sugar which foster the bacteria that erode teeth. Mix in more healthy options like baby carrots or nuts.
  3. Talk to you dentist about dental sealants, which can reduce tooth decay on biting surfaces as much as 89%. These plastic coatings are especially good for molars. “I think parents should insist on them” says Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, a pediatric dentist. “That’s how important they are.” (Sheehan, 2013)
  4. Around Halloween time, keep kids from grazing on candy all day long. Let them pick several pieces at various intervals to eat, and have them rinse their mouth with water 5 minutes or so after they’re done.
  5. Limit their exposure to soda, juice, and sugary drinks.

Cavity prevention for kids

  1. Have kids get in the habit of rinsing after eating, by taking a mouthful of water, swishing it around for 15 seconds, and then spitting. It helps to remove acid and food particles between brushing.
  2. Have children chew sugar-free gum between meals, preferably one with the cavity-fighting sweetener xylitol, such as Trident.  It produces more saliva and helps clean the teeth.

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