Tooth Decay In Kids- Reasons, Symptoms & Remedies

Tooth Decay In Children: Causes, Signs and Treatment

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Devanshi Mehta (Paediatric & Preventive Dentist)
View more Paediatric & Preventive Dentist Our Panel of Experts

Children love sweets and lots of other stuff that can make their parents worried about their dental health. Tooth decay is the damage caused to the tooth by germs that produce acid in our mouth and attack the teeth. This can result in a hole in the tooth called a cavity, which causes pain, infection and tooth loss. Read this article to know more about tooth decay in kids, its causes, signs and treatments.

What Causes Tooth Decay in Kids?

Every minute a sticky layer called ‘plaque’ is formed naturally on the tooth. If we do not brush properly the layer builds up. In addition, when we eat food, particles from the food get stuck in the teeth adding bacteria in the mouth. These bacteria feed on the sugar made available from the food and produce acids. These acids attack the teeth causing damage to the enamel, which results in tooth decay. Some of the causes of tooth decay are:

  • Food Habits: Tooth decay in children is caused due to changing food habits. Excess sugar content in children’s food affects their teeth. Kids usually like sweets, chocolates, ice creams, candies, biscuits, etc. They have excessive sugar content and are usually sticky in nature. Moreover, the frequency of eating these types of foods also plays an important role. When eaten in excess, or when eaten frequency, i.e. multiple times a day, these foods make the teeth more susceptible to tooth decay.

What Causes Tooth Decay in Kids?

  • Drinks: The intake of juices, soft drinks, sports drinks and flavoured milk can cause cavities as well. The kids who drink these beverages frequently are more prone to tooth decay as they are aerated and/or contain high sugar levels. The aerated drinks cause the enamel layer to erode, making it easier for bacteria to settle on, and the sugar provides the bacteria to feed upon. Both of these factors cause cavities.


  • Medical Conditions: Some medical conditions may increase the risk of cavities, too. If your child is suffering from chronic allergies, he or she may opt for mouth breathing, which interferes with the flow of saliva. When the flow of saliva decreases, the mouth becomes dry. One of the many roles of saliva is to flush out the bacteria accumulating on the teeth. With a decrease in saliva, the chances of cavities increase.
  • Bedtime Feeding: When infants are given milk bottles at night time filled with milk, juice and other sugar-containing liquids, these liquids sit on their teeth for hours and feed the bacteria. Same can happen to the toddlers when they drink from a sippy cup filled with these liquids.

Bedtime Feeding

  • Deficiency of Fluoride: Fluoride is a natural mineral which helps in avoiding cavities and reverse the effect of tooth damage in the initial stage. This mineral is used in public water supplies, toothpaste and mouth rinse. The availability of fluoride in home care and professional care in an adequate and timely manner can help prevent tooth decay.

Signs of Tooth Decay

Signs of tooth decay may not be experienced in the early stage. Here are some of them.

  • Holes in teeth
  • Change in colour of the teeth
  • Sensitivity in teeth
  • A toothache which occurs while eating or biting food items
  • Recurrent pain during the day
  • Spontaneous pain in the night time
  • Bad breath
  • Swelling of the gums

If your kid is suffering from any of the above signs and symptoms, consult a pediatric dentist immediately. If you don’t get it treated, the decay will progress, leading to irreversible tooth damage.

Treatments for Tooth Decay

The treatment procedures for tooth decay depends upon the condition of the tooth. Frequent check-ups can diagnose the problem in the early stage and help prevent severe damage. Many treatment options are available such as the ones given below:

  • Fluoride Treatment: Fluoride treatment helps in restoring the enamel damage. Enamel damage is the initial stage of tooth decay as you can see spots on the teeth during this stage. The fluoride gel or varnish is used to cover the spots and to give the required minerals for the teeth. Fluoride toothpaste will be prescribed to repair the tooth and reverse the effect of the decay.

Fluoride Treatment

  • Fillings: Fillings are used to fill the cavities which have crossed the first stage. The damaged portion is removed and is filled with tooth coloured or silver filling material

child teeth filling

  • Crowns: Crowns are used for the majorly damaged teeth. In this procedure, the dentist drills and removes the decayed part and fills it with a filling material. Then an appropriately-sized crown, which is selected from a commercially available preformed crown kit, is fitted. The crown can be silver-coloured (stainless steel crowns) or tooth-coloured (zirconia crowns).

Silver crown teeth in young girl  child mouth

  • Root Canals: The tooth decay enters into the inner layer of the tooth called pulp. Once the pulp is damaged, root canal treatment has to be done. In this procedure, the infected pulp is removed and replaced with a medicament. Root canal treatment is followed by the placement of a crown to protect that tooth and use it in full function.

root canal of a child

  • Teeth Extraction: If the tooth is damaged to the extent that it can’t be restored, it must be extracted. It may lead to further damage to underlying permanent teeth if you ignore the issue. When a milk tooth is extracted, it should be followed by a space maintainer to keep the space for the permanent tooth if needed as suggested by your pediatric dentist. If a permanent tooth is extracted, it has to be replaced by a suitable replacement.

dental extraction of a boy

How to Prevent Child Tooth Decay

Prevention of tooth decay in children can be done by following these methods suggested below:

  1. Maintain your oral health during pregnancy which will lead to fewer chances of transfer of infections and breeding of bacteria.
  2. Stop sharing spoons with your child. Infants don’t have any bacteria in their mouth from birth. By sharing spoons while checking the taste of food, you inadvertently transfer bacteria to your kid’s mouth.
  3. Use fluoridated water to protect your child’s teeth from infection. Drinking water contains this mineral naturally. If you are using non-fluoridated water, consult your dentist to get a supplement of fluoride.
  4. Infant’s mouth should be cleaned by wiping it with a clean and smooth cloth. Once they start developing teeth, brush his or her teeth with soft baby toothbrush mildly using fluoride toothpaste.
  5. Don’t let your baby sleep with a bottle or food in their mouth. This will lead to exposure of teeth to sugars, resulting in infection and tooth decay.
  6. Don’t give sugary drinks like milk for long periods to your child to drink in a sippy cup or bottle. Instead, give them water.
  7. Habituate your child to drink liquids from a cup or glass as early as possible after completing one year of age. Taking liquids from a cup or glass will decrease the risk of cavities.
  8. Regular brushing can reduce the generation of plaque and germs in the mouth, which in turn reduces the risk of cavities. Habituate your kid to brush for two times in a day, in the morning and at bedtime.
  9. Keep control of the sugary foods your child eats regularly. Foods like chips, candies, jellies, cookies, fruit rolls, etc. contain sugars, and these foods are a threat if consumed in excess.
  10. Consult your pediatric dentist when your child is at the age of one year or when his/her first tooth erupts.

Does Making Changes in My Child’s Diet Help in Preventing Tooth Decay?

Some of the dietary changes that can be made include:

  • Give fruits and vegetables to your child instead of carbohydrate-rich foods. Pears, melons, celery, and cucumbers are best to give as they are rich in fibre and low on sugars. Banana and raisins contain sugars, so use them in limited quantities.

kid having fruits

  • Cheese can be added to the diet plan of your child as it helps in the production of saliva. It can be given with the lunch items.
  • Skip sticky and chewy foods as they are likely to spread bacteria in the mouth. If your kid eats these foods, brush their teeth immediately after eating.

Tips for Oral Hygiene

For healthy teeth, here are simple tips for oral hygiene.

  • Regular Brushing
  • Selecting a proper brush
  • Regular flossing
  • Using mouthwash
  • Proper cleaning of the brush
  • Changing your toothbrush after three months
  • Using a tongue scraper to keep your tongue clean
  • Stop frequent snacking
  • Avoiding sharing of utensils and cutlery with other children
  • Avoiding foods with high sugar content
  • Avoiding late-night snacking after they have brushed their teeth
  • Taking your child to the dentist every three months if possible

Tooth decay may seem inevitable, but proper dental care and treatment can help your child maintain his dental health. Ensure you get your little one’s teeth checked by a good dentist, and teach him the importance of dental hygiene and health.

Also Read: Bad Breath in Kids 

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