Tooth decay is one of the most frequently occurring infectious diseases that affect children in the United States today. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, more than half of all children between the ages of six and 11 suffer tooth decay.
Tooth decay happens when bacteria eats away at the enamel surface of teeth. It’s really the result of an infection that forms in the mouth. The result of tooth decay is a cavity. A few things that cause tooth decay include poor oral hygiene and inadequate nutrition. Dr. Mila Cohen’s role is to catch early signs of decay and teach your kids how to take care of their teeth.
The Making of a Cavity
Eating and drinking are huge contributors in the creation of tooth decay. Consuming foods and drinks that contain high levels of acidity — especially sugars and starches — begin the process of tooth decay and the creation of cavities. In simpler terms, the more acid in a substance, the more harmful to teeth it is. Some foods and drinks with high levels of acid include:
- Processed foods like meat and sliced cheese products
The list is fairly extensive. Frequent exposure to acids wears down the tooth enamel. Tooth enamel, one of the hardest substances in the human body, provides protection over the crown of the tooth. It’s one of four major tissues that make up every tooth:
Symptoms of Tooth Decay
Some indicators that occur if a cavity is about to form or has formed include:
- Severe toothache
- Loss of a permanent (or adult) tooth, unlike baby teeth, which fall out naturally
- Sensitivity to hot or cold food and drink
- Pain when chewing
- White spot appearing on the tooth
Your dentist can reverse the process of tooth decay if it’s caught early enough — an abnormally white spot appears on your child’s tooth where the tooth enamel has been attacked. Enamel can repair itself using saliva and fluoride from toothpaste. But if the tooth decay isn’t treated right away, the enamel continues to break down, which leads to a loss of important minerals in the tooth. As time passes, the enamel is completely weakened and destroyed — forming a cavity.[pgcallout]
Treating Tooth Decay
A cavity is a permanently damaged tooth that only your child’s dentist can fix. There are various ways in which your dentist goes about repairing a cavity. Restorative treatments depend on how far into the tooth the decay has progressed:
Sealants use a plastic coating placed on the surface of the back teeth or molars. The sealant goes on as a liquid, then dries hard. Because food can get under a ridge or groove in a back tooth, you can’t effectively brush it away. So the sealants protect teeth by creating a barrier against the food and the associated bacteria.
Filling a Cavity
To treat a cavity, your dentist has to determine how bad it is. Usually, the dentist can drill out all the decaying parts of your child’s tooth, then replace it with a filling material made of a silver alloy, gold, porcelain, or a resin.
If the tooth is too far decayed, a filling won’t work, so your dentist may perform a “baby root canal.” In this procedure, the dentist removes every bit of decay, including the root and nerve of the tooth. Finally, to protect and strengthen the tooth, a crown is placed over the whole tooth.
A crown is an option when a tooth is almost completely gone due to decay. A root canal only occurs under circumstances when the root of the tooth is completely decayed and dead. The crown fits over the whole tooth, down to the gum line, to protect it from further decay.
Prevention Is the Best Tool
Teach kids at a young age the importance of good dental maintenance. Your dentist is trained in different ways to teach your children how to brush and clean their teeth. Working with kids is the specialty of every dentist, and the best ones have tools of communication that get through to kids. Some of the topics your dentist discusses with your kids include:
- Consistent brushing. It’s your job as a parent to monitor your children’s oral hygiene and make sure they brush their teeth two to three times daily. Set a good example for your kids and give them incentives to brush and floss regularly. Make teeth cleansing a positive, fun activity instead of making is seem like a boring chore.
- Eating habits. Monitoring the foods your children eat is a great way to be actively involved in the prevention of tooth decay. Your kids’ diet is a huge factor in their dental health. Sugars in foods and drinks create the acid that begins the decaying process. Foods that are a good substitute for high acidic foods include: cheeses, sugar-free chewing gum and raisins.
- Make regular dental appointments. Take your kids to dental appointments at least twice a year. Professional teeth cleanings and regular exams help prevent any kind of oral disease while finding and treating cavities. Your dentist uses this time to emphasize the lessons about good dental health practices.
- Known as nature’s cavity fighter, fluoride helps prevent or reverse the creation of cavities by strengthening the enamel. Fluoride prevents mineral loss and repairs the enamel. Your kids get fluoride from many sources, including most city drinking water systems. Your dentist may also prescribe fluoride treatments and help your family maintain the ideal levels of fluoride in your diets.