toddler tooth decay treatment

Tooth decay is a problem affecting adults and toddlers alike. According to NICDR (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research), about 42% of kids aged between 2 and 11 years develop cavities in their milk teeth. We also refer to milk teeth as baby teeth, primary teeth or deciduous teeth.

Close to 28% of toddlers between ages 2 and 5 develop a tooth cavity; this is shocking to many parents and causes many of them to wonder what causes tooth decay. They also want to know how to prevent their toddlers from it and how they can treat it.

In this piece, you shall learn about this and more.

What is toddler tooth decay?

It is the damage and breakdown of the enamel and dentine making up a tooth. Tooth decay is known as dental caries.

Children at the risk of developing tooth decay

Every child has bacteria in their mouth; this means that every child is exposed to the risk of developing tooth decay. However, certain factors raise the risk of a child developing this condition, including:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Minimal saliva flow
  • A diet full of starches and sugars
  • High bacteria levels
  • Drinking water with little to no fluoride
  • Not using a fluoride toothpaste

Toddler tooth decay symptoms

Though tooth decay can manifest differently in children, some symptoms are common.

White spots form on affected teeth

The white spots are a sign that your child’s enamel is breaking down, this weakens the enamel and can cause tooth sensitivity.

Early light brown cavities

As the cavities grow, the teeth turn from light brown to a darker brown.

Additional symptoms include

  • Sensitivity to sugary, hot and cold drinks/food
  • Pain around the affected tooth

The importance of detecting tooth decay early in young children

In the early stages, toddler tooth decay is reversible with proper treatment. However, the early stage of toddler tooth decay is hard to catch. As a parent, you need to be keen and watch out for the above-listed symptoms.

Once the tooth decay progresses in the severe stages, it’s irreversible, and the child may need to undergo various treatment methods.

How to diagnose tooth decay in toddlers

Tooth decay diagnosis is often based on;

  • Examination of the child’s mouth
  • The child’s dental history
  • Dental X-rays

tooth decay treatment

The Importance of Treatment (Child tooth decay treatment options)

Toddler tooth decay treatments vary depending on the symptoms, age of the child, and the overall health. It also depends on the severity of tooth decay.

How is tooth decay treated in children?

Fluoride treatments

When the decay is caught in the early stages (before it eats through the enamel), a fluoride varnish treatment or simply brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste can reverse the malady. (1)

Professional fluoride treatments contain higher levels of fluoride than tap water and over-the-counter toothpaste.

Baby Teeth Get Fillings (why fill baby teeth when they fall anyway)

These fillings are put in place to preserve a child’s oral hygiene and health. Though baby teeth are temporary, they last for a couple of years (until they fall off and permanent teeth grow in their place). The milk teeth help permanent teeth to grow healthily.; losing these teeth earlier can affect the growth of permanent teeth.

Pulp capping procedure

If the tooth decay is between moderate and severe (it is very close to the nerve, but the nerve are not exposed) a pulp capping procedure is conducted before fillings are placed.

Pulpotomy procedure

This procedure is done when the decay is severe, and the pulp is exposed. The process involves the removal of the affected pulp and placing specific medication. A stainless steel crown is placed following the procedure.

Root Canal (pulpectomy)

When the decay gets to the inner pulp, a root canal is done before the placement of a crown. Apart from extraction, this is the only treatment option for such severe tooth decay.

A dentist will remove the affected pulp, administer medication to encourage healing and then fill up the tooth.

Stainless steel crowns

After a pulpotomy or pulpectomy, a crown is necessary. A stainless steel crown is installed. The dentist will first have to remove the decay before filling the tooth and covering it with a crown for protection.

Sometimes Extraction Is Necessary

For teeth that are severely affected by the point of forming abscesses, extraction is imperative. Once a tooth is extracted, a space maintainer is placed to keep the adjacent tooth from shifting out of place.

How can I help prevent tooth decay in my child?

Below are some ways you can help:

  • Brush your child’s teeth once the first tooth erupts. Lightly brush and scrub the gums, tongue, and teeth twice daily with toothpaste laced with fluoride. If your child can brush their teeth, supervise them while they do it.
  • For kids aged below three years, use a grain-sized smear of toothpaste. For those above three years, use a pea-sized amount.
  • Floss your kid’s teeth once they hit two years
  • Give your child a balanced diet. Avoid feeding them with snacks like cakes, cookies, candy and chips
  • Avoid transferring your bacteria to your child. You can do this by not sharing spoons and not using your saliva to clean their pacifier
  • Only give your child water before bedtime. Juices or formulas have sugars, which can cause tooth decay
  • If your water does not have fluoride, consider using fluoride supplements. However, you should consult with your dentist first
  • Schedule routine exams twice a year

Chalky teeth and risk for tooth decay

Chalky teeth have demineralised white spots on them. Any tooth can be affected but more commonly it is the molars. Teeth become chalky if the enamel fails to harden properly when the teeth are forming in the fetal stage. Since these teeth are weak, they are at high risk of developing tooth decay. Baby molars and permanent adult molars can be affected. If you think that your child has a chalky tooth, consult a dentist.

Good feeding habits help to prevent tooth decay

Teach your child how to drink from a feeding cup once they turn six months old. By age 1, they should be drinking exclusively from a regular cup. Kids aged 1 and above should drink water or plain milk full of fats. Fruit juices are not recommended because of their high acidity and sugar content.

At six months, you should be feeding your child with solid foods. Ensure that the diet is nutritious and with a variety of flavours and textures.

Dental checks can spot the early signs of tooth decay

When your child turns two, they should have a dental examination done by a professional dentist. These dental checks are useful in catching tooth decay and other dental conditions in their early stages.

Oral hygiene is as essential in toddlers and children as it is in adults. For this reason, you should train your child to have good oral hygiene habits. At first, do it for them and later allow them to do it by themselves but with supervision

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Savina Clinic – Dental & Implantology Centres are friendly, state-of-the-art practices in Malta and Gozo dedicated to comprehensive quality dental care. Savina Dental is an innovative dental practice in Malta and prides itself on the high-quality customer service, low waiting room times, attention to detail and the advanced dental technology at their disposal.

Joseph Xuereb
Joseph Xuereb
Principal Dental Surgeon & Owner of Savina Dental Clinics, Dr Joseph Xuereb BChD (Hons), MFGDP(UK), MGDS RCS(Eng), FFGDP RCS(UK), FICD is a general dental practitioner with a special interest in Implant and Restorative Dentistry. Dr Joseph & the teams' full biographical information can be found here.