FACT: Nearly 28 percent of children ages 2-5 and more than 60 percent of kids between 6-11 develop at least one cavity. This is according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. *

‘No big deal,’ you might think, ‘everyone gets cavities.’ How about this? Tooth decay in kids is responsible for the loss of over 51 million hours of school.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Anyone with teeth – even a 12-month old with one single tooth – can get a cavity.
  • Too much exposure to hidden sugar can be the culprit. There are sugars found in a lot of the foods and drinks we give our kids from milk, breast milk and formulas to sweetened water and fruit juices. When the sugar remains in the child’s mouth for 20 minutes (such as by giving a baby a bottle in bed or by sweetening a pacifier with honey), bacteria “feeds” on these sugars to produce acid that attacks the teeth, according to the American Dental Association. This can increase the risk for tooth decay.
  • Lack of brushing and fluoride, or poor brushing, can be a problem. Make sure you brush and floss your child’s teeth daily and be sure to avoid sugary foods. Foods that are high in acid, such as citrus fruits, will weaken the enamel and make your child more susceptible to cavities
  • Oral health and general health are closely linked

Now the good news… By knowing the causes, you can help to avoid it with just a few simple steps and healthy habits:

  1. Think 2×2. Create a tooth brushing routine for morning and nighttime, two minutes each time. Children respond positively to the creation of routines. Make it fun with silly songs and stories. It only takes 21 days to create a habit, so it won’t take long for your kids to think about brushing on their own.
  2. Help young kids brush their teeth but supervise until age 8 or 9. So, when exactly are kids really old enough to brush their teeth all by themselves? There’s not really one answer that fits every child; for most it’s somewhere between 6-9 years old. Until children are able to tie their own shoes, they don’t have the skills to brush their own teeth. By helping, parents can ensure that no food is left behind, which can lead to cavities. Even after children are able to brush their own teeth, parents should be supervising to ensure children are doing a good job.
  3. Fluoride! Fluoride! Fluoride! Buy toothpaste with fluoride for children two years old and up. Follow the recommended amount on the packaging – and then don’t rinse! Have your children simply spit out the excess toothpaste. This will allow the fluoride to stay on their teeth, adding extra protection. Be sure to read our previous post about our recommendations on this.
  4. Visit the dentist regularly. Kids’ dentist appointments are just as important as adults’. Get them in the habit early so they know that good oral health is a critical part of overall health, as well as check for early signs of tooth decay. We’ll also give parents strategies for taking care of their children’s teeth, and issues like dental trauma and snacking.
  5. Limit sugar intake. The amount of sugar that is in kids’ drinks and diets directly relates to the rise in tooth decay.
  6. Model good behavior & feel free to reward. Your children learn from you, so set a good example. Are your habits strong? Also, what motivates your child? Stickers? Make a reward chart and add one after every brush. Stories? Let him/her pick out the bedtime story.
*National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research