Tooth Decay in the Child and Adolescent
Good oral health is a fundamental part of good general health. According to the Surgeon General’s report on oral health, dental caries (tooth decay) is the single most common chronic childhood disease. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry defines early childhood caries as the presence of one or more decayed, missing, or filled tooth surface in any children six years old or younger.
What is tooth decay/cavity?
Dental decay is an infectious, communicable and transmittable disease that has multiple factors that influence the initiation and progression of decay. It can begin with cavity causing bacteria being passed from the mother or primary care giver to the infant. The bacteria is passed through the saliva.
Tooth decay begins in the first layer of the tooth, called the enamel, and progresses slowly into the second layer of the tooth, dentin. When decay begins in the first layer of the tooth, no treatment is required. It has a chance to re-mineralize by saliva, keeping the area clean, or in-office fluoride treatment. Dentin is a softer layer of the tooth, beneath the enamel layer and once the decay has spread into this layer, treatment is required. A cavity is when there’s a hole in the tooth, which is the late stage of tooth decay.
Treating a tooth with a filling or crown will treat the teeth, but not cure the disease. If the oral environment is unfavorable like an unhealthy diet, lack oral hygiene, fluoride deficiency, and etc., decay will persist and more restorations will be required in time.
When permanent teeth erupt, they are vulnerable to tooth decay because enamel calcification (formation of the outer layer of the tooth) is incomplete. An additional two years is required for the calcification process to be completed, making the teeth especially susceptible to decay during the first two years after eruption.
How do I prevent my children from getting tooth decay?
Most importantly, tooth decay is a preventable disease. At Dentate Smile Design, x-rays are taken for a child with a high risk of decay as soon as the back teeth are erupted. Dr. Tate Vo relies upon a visual tactile-radiographic procedure for the detection of cavities. Our Rochester Hills Dental Office uses tools to indicate any weak areas that have the possibility of becoming re-mineralized (making the teeth stronger). Dr. Vo and the hygienist identify areas of decalcifications (weaker spots on the teeth that are prone to decay), typically white spots or suspicious fissures and pits on the biting surface of the teeth. Our office provides sealants, which are a thin, protective coating placed on the back biting surfaces of teeth that preventing cavities in the areas they are placed.
After eruption (when the teeth enter the mouth and become visible), frequent bottle feedings, or prolong bottle or breast feeding is often associated with early tooth decay. Avoid putting the child to bed or nap time with a nursing bottle holding milk or a sugar containing beverage. The bacteria in the mouth thrive on this sugar and make acids that attack the teeth.
Without doubt, the repeated use of fluoride is of critical importance for control and prevention of decay in both children and adults. The use of in-office fluoride treatment absorbs into the dentin and enamel of un-erupted teeth; making the teeth more resistant to acid attacks after eruption. Fluoride is accumulated in plaque (sticky film that contains a collection of bacteria on the teeth), where it decreases acid production and promotes re-mineralization (absorbing minerals needed to make the enamel stronger).
Dr. Vo and the hygienist counsel parents to practice good oral hygiene measures and nutritional guidance for the child . They also advise on avoid inappropriate feeding habits that are associated with dental caries. Click here to see our Child Friendly Dental Office Visit .