Tooth decay is the deterioration of the enamel or the underlying tooth structure. For example, a common form of tooth decay is a cavity. Cavities start as small pits or holes in the tooth’s protective enamel. Initially, a cavity may not cause any pain or other symptoms until it progresses. At some point, you may be able to see an actual hole or black spot on your tooth. Without treatment, cavities can advance into infection or tooth loss.
Many people associate cavities with children. However, adults are just as susceptible to tooth decay. Over 90% of adults in the U.S. will develop cavities before they are 65 years old. While it is essential to discuss the frequency of cavities in adults, treating them in children is vital. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood illness.
There is a myth that cavities in children are not a big deal. The myth exists because children’s teeth fall out and are not permanent. Why fix a cavity if an adult tooth will fill its place? The answer is: children’s oral health impacts the health of their permanent teeth. It can be tempting to dismiss the importance of children’s oral health. However, it is just as essential as adult oral health.
Cavities affect health in the same way for both children and adults. As cavities progress, they can cause pain, sensitivity, and discomfort. This alone is reason enough to get children’s cavities treated. However, it can have a much harsher lifelong impact. Untreated cavities can do more than just destroy the enamel. Instead, cavities will continue to burrow into the tooth to the delicate inner layers. The innermost layer—the pulp—contains connective tissues and nerves.
Once a cavity reaches the pulp, it will cause significant pain. Also, it will require a much more painful and invasive procedure. In addition, cavities can advance into infections and even tooth loss. Infections in the mouth should be considered dangerous and require immediate treatment. If left alone, infections will spread to other organ systems through the bloodstream or airway.
The infections in baby teeth can spread to permanent adult teeth. This can cause early decay of teeth still within the gums. Additionally, tooth decay in non-erupted teeth can create deformities in the teeth.
You can prevent tooth decay through a combination of dental exams and proper oral health care.
Children learn best through example. You can model good oral health care for your child. If you brush and floss your teeth as recommended, your child will likely follow suit. If you go through your oral health care routine with your child, you can monitor them. You can ensure that they are brushing and flossing correctly.
Taking your child to the dentist can help them develop healthy lifelong habits. If they are used to going to the dentist as a child, they are more likely to go as an adult. In addition, any health habits formed as a child increase the likelihood of them making it to adulthood.