Is It Normal for Kids to Get Cavities?


Kids smiling showing healthy teeth with no cavities

In almost every instance, tooth decay is not normal. That said, it is common, especially among children. Here’s what you should know about your child’s dental health. 

Cavities in Kids

Cavities are one of the most common chronic issues among children in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 20% of kids between the ages of 5 and 11 have an untreated cavity, while 13% of adolescents have some level of tooth decay. 

Pediatric dentists commonly see little kids with cavities. Unfortunately, there are many short- and long-term consequences associated with cavities in children. 

Treating a Cavity in Children’s Teeth

When dentists treat childhood cavities, they plan their strategy based on the child’s unique situation and age. A 2-year-old’s cavity treatment is likely to be similar to a 4-year-old’s cavity treatment. In both cases, a sealant or small filling is enough to do the job. When dentists see a cavity in a 6-year-old, however, the treatment can be more complex. This is because children tend to begin developing adult teeth at around this age. 

To preserve the tooth for the rest of the child’s life, a dentist will need to act fast to prevent extensive decay. When parents delay treatment, things could get much worse. It’s not unheard of for dentists to see a child with rotten teeth or a young patient in need of a root canal. 

Why Cavities Matter

When they go unnoticed, cavities can cause pain and infections. They can also lead to problems with speaking, eating, playing and learning. The CDC reports that kids who have poor oral health tend to miss more school and receive disappointing grades compared to kids who have fewer oral health issues. 

Fortunately, there are some easy ways to protect your child’s oral health and prevent cavities from forming in the first place. 

Protecting Your Child’s Oral Health

Depending on your child’s age, there are some proactive things you can do to prevent dental decay. 

For Babies:

  • Wipe gums twice daily using a soft, clean cloth
  • When teeth erupt, brush twice daily using a small, soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Visit the dentist when teeth first erupt
  • Ask the dentist about protecting teeth using fluoride varnish 

For Children:

  • Brush their teeth twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Supervise brushing for kids younger than 6
  • Drink fluoridated tap water
  • Maintain regular dental examinations
  • Ask your child’s pediatric dentist to apply dental sealants as needed

What Causes Cavities in Children?

Almost every type of cavity occurs due to poor dental hygiene which allows bacteria to proliferate and produce corrosive acids within the mouth. That said, some common things can increase the likelihood of cavities in children. 

Tooth decay can often develop when parents put their kids to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, juice or sugared drinks. It can also happen when kids are allowed to frequently drink from a bottle or sippy cup during the night or day. 

Milk should only be served with meals and not offered during the day, at nap times or a child’s bedtime. Although frequent and extended breastfeeding by itself does not lead to tooth decay, every breastfeeding mother should be aware of proper oral hygiene, preventive dental care and healthy diet recommendations.

It’s also important to maintain regular checkups with your child’s pediatric dentist. Since minor cavities rarely show symptoms, you may not be aware of a problem until it evolves into a painful issue requiring extensive treatment. The sooner you catch a cavity, the easier it is to treat. By waiting to get an evaluation, you run the risk of infection which can spread below the gum line, leading to tooth loss, gum disease and serious developmental complications.

Two smiles, one-stop. Celebrate Children’s Dental Health Month by booking your child’s next dental appointment at a Gentle Dental location near you.