Cavities are a normal dental issue for kids. While the ultimate goal of dentistry is to prevent cavities, sometimes they still occur. Children are still learning how to brush and floss effectively, something that even adults don’t always accomplish. This means tooth decay may happen in between dental visits.
If your dentist discovers a cavity in one of your child’s teeth, it can be concerning, but there is no reason to worry. Restorative dental procedures are designed to repair damage to the teeth. Here’s what you should expect if your kid has a cavity.
What is a Cavity?
A cavity is a hole or pit in the enamel of a tooth. It is caused by plaque, a sticky film made up of food residue and bacteria. When plaque remains on a tooth over time without being removed by brushing, flossing, or dental cleanings, the bacteria will eat away at the tooth enamel, causing a cavity. Cavities are also called decay or caries in dentistry.
How Are Cavities Detected?
Small cavities are most often detected by dental X-rays. Most pediatric dental practices take X-ray images once a year to check for cavities and to assess dental health below the gums. Cavities show up as dark places or shadows in the enamel of the teeth in X-ray images.
Some cavities are large enough to be seen during an oral examination. Dentists use bright lights, mirrors, and even intraoral cameras to find visible cavities in the enamel. Discolorations or sticky spots in the enamel are often signs of the beginnings of a cavity.
How is a Cavity Treated?
In most cases a cavity will be treated with a filling. During a filling the decayed portion of the enamel is removed and the hole is filled with tooth colored composite material. This stops the decay from worsening and helps the tooth look natural. A filling can be done with just local anesthesia, or with some sedation if needed to help manage anxiety.
Care Instructions After a Cavity
Cavity fillings are relatively simple, non-invasive procedures. In most cases there is no special care required afterwards. It is best to eat soft foods for the remainder of the day, and possibly the next day if the child has any discomfort. If needed, Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen) can be given if needed according to the dosing instructions by age on the packaging.
Education on Effective Brushing and Flossing Techniques
In order to prevent future cavities, it helps to educate children on effective brushing and flossing techniques. Children should brush their teeth for at least 2 minutes, taking care to reach all sides of each tooth. It can help to spend 30 seconds on each quadrant of the mouth (upper right, upper left, lower right, and lower left). Monitor brushing for younger children and assist with brushing when necessary to ensure that the teeth are getting clean.
For younger children, flossing is usually easier using stick flossers rather than string floss. But as children reach upper elementary, they may be ready to use string floss that wraps around the fingers. The key to effective flossing is getting the floss all the way down between each tooth and into the pockets between the teeth and gums on each side.
Regular Dental Visits Help Prevent Cavities
Children who go to the dentist every 6 months for teeth cleanings and oral exams are significantly less likely to develop cavities. If it has been more than 6 months since your child’s last dental visit or if you think they may have a cavity, call 516-625-3806 or contact us to schedule an appointment today.