Helpful Pediatric Dentistry Tips!

Explaining Cavities to Kids

by Dr. Steve Whittemore, D.D.S. | Published August 23, 2022

When your child gets old enough to take charge of their own oral health it’s important to educate them on common dental issues they’ll want to prevent. One of the most common concerns that plague children are cavities, also known as dental caries. It can be difficult to emphasize the urgency behind proper dental care, and come up with the verbiage that is the easiest to understand. That’s where we come in! Here is a guide to help explain what cavities are, what causes them, and how we can work to fix and avoid them.

What are Cavities?

A cavity, also known as a dental carie, is a decayed or diseased area of your tooth. A common sign a cavity is present is if there is sensitivity or sharp pain when pressure is applied in the affected area.  It looks like a small hole or opening that has formed on your tooth. Sometimes bad breath or visible teeth stains can be signs of a cavity as well. 

What Causes Cavities?

Cavities are caused by bacteria. Tooth decay is when parts of your tooth are damaged or missing as a result of poor oral hygiene.

Phase One

Tooth decay starts when plaque forms. Plaque is a clear sticky layer that covers your teeth. This layer comes from too much food debris on your teeth,  especially if you’re not cleaning your teeth well. When sugar and food debris aren’t cleaned off your teeth bacteria use it as a food source. Bacteria love sugar, so the more sugar that is left behind after brushing, the more bacteria will be in the mouth. For bacteria, sugar is its favorite food. When bacteria is eating the sugar on your teeth, it leaves behind plaque that is very acidic.

When you aren’t disciplined about brushing your teeth, plaque begins to build more and more over time. The more plaque that builds up on your teeth, the more damage that can occur to the teeth.This is when plaque and bacteria begin to eat away at your teeth themselves.  

Phase Two

Your tooth has a harder, protective layer on the outside called enamel followed by a softer layer called dentin. When plaque breaks down the enamel, this is when small holes begin to form. The acidic plaque then moves on to start damaging the dentin, which protects the nerves of the tooth.

Phase Three

As the plaque and bacteria slowly continue to progress through the dentin, it will eventually reach the layer of your tooth called the pulp. The pulp is the layer of your tooth that has nerves and blood vessels. Nerves are what tell your body to feel things and blood vessels are what help carry blood throughout your body.  These are two very sensitive parts of your anatomy. 

When the bacteria comes in contact with the pulp it becomes irritated and swollen. This is when the tooth becomes extremely painful. If left unfixed even the bones in your mouth can become infected. This is why it is important to visit your dentist at the first sign of a cavity.

How Do You Fix Cavities?

While cavities can be potentially painful and scary they are very common and there are things you can do to fix them. If your dentist discovers a cavity, they can repair it for you by first removing the decayed part of your tooth with special instruments. The dentist then fills the hole in your tooth with a filling material.

Fixing cavities does not hurt. The dentist will numb the teeth before repairing the affected tooth. 

How Do You Prevent Cavities?

Cavities are easy to avoid with a little bit of work! Making sure to limit the amount of sugary foods in our diet and taking the time to correctly brush our teeth on a daily basis can make all the difference! It’s also important to visit your dentist for semi-annual check ups, or at the sign of any abnormalities. Preventing tooth decay doesn’t have to be boring! Adding music to teeth-brushing time, or brushing our teeth with family can make it that much easier.

Pediatric Dentistry Clinic in Des Moines & Ankeny

Whether it’s teaching your child about the importance of dental hygiene or treating your child’s first cavity, Pediatric Dentistry of Central Iowa has been working with families in all stages of their dental health journey since 1975. Contact us today!

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