The most common concern we hear from parents is that their kids have soft teeth or bad genes, which is causing their cavities. While there are a few genetic conditions that can cause teeth to develop poorly, these conditions are extremely few and far between. By far the most common factors leading to cavities are diet, hygiene, and the type of bacteria in a child’s mouth. Fortunately, these are all things that a parent can control or improve!
Dietary factors that cause cavities include frequent snacking, frequent drinking of juice, soda and/or milk (especially in between meals), and a diet high in sugar or processed carbohydrates. A child’s diet can be a huge source of frustration for a parent but sometimes simple changes can make a huge difference in the health of their teeth.
Brushing kids teeth the right way can also be a struggle for parents. Start brushing with a fluoride toothpaste as soon as their first tooth erupts and continue to brush their teeth for them, or at least brush after they do, until they are at least 8 years of age. While your child may “love to brush their teeth” they are likely not doing a thorough job and reaching all the surfaces they need to until they are much older! Two minutes twice a day is a good rule of thumb to follow.
While the type of bacteria in a child’s mouth is not genetic, it certainly can be passed from parent to child or even from another sibling to that child. Research has shown that it is critical to prevent the spread of the cavity causing type of bacteria to the mouth of small children. Parents can minimize this spread by eliminating saliva sharing activities such as sharing spoons, popsicles, or lollipops, etc. It is also important for parents to make sure that their own mouth is healthy and cavity free to minimize this transfer of bacteria.
Some tips for cavity prevention:
- Limit frequent snacks (ideally 2 snacks per day maximum).
- Encourage brushing, flossing, and rinsing from a very early age.
- Watch what your child drinks, especially in between meals.
- Avoid sticky foods, especially for snacks.
- Make treats a part of meals.
- Choose nutritious snacks, keeping in mind that the most tooth friendly snacks are always fresh.