Dental Cavities in Toddlers (6 Helpful Prevention Tips)

Last Updated on: 4th April 2024, 07:47 am


Dental cavities in toddlers represent a critical oral health concern that necessitates proper attention and treatment. Regarding them as just a condition of milk teeth would be a misconception. Early childhood cavities that do not receive the required treatment can lead to other more complex oral health conditions that affect the normal development of permanent teeth. Data from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research indicate that 42% of children between the ages of 2 and 11 have cavities in their primary teeth. In this regard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that more than 19% of the population between 2 and 5 years of age does not receive treatment for dental caries.


What are dental cavities in toddlers?

child with dental caries
a child with dental caries

Caries is a hole or lesion that affects teeth and oral health, as a consequence of bacteria that feed on the sugar and starch residue of food that remain in the mouth and produce acids. It perforates the layers of the tooth and damages tooth enamel. Pediatric dental caries is a frequent disease in the first stage of life characterized by having softer teeth, with less resistance than permanent dentition.

The decay of milk teeth causes pain and difficulty eating. In addition, it affects the proper growth and development of permanent teeth.
If the decay is not treated promptly, it can lead to a serious infection and require more invasive procedures, such as tooth extraction.


What are the causes of dental caries in children?

Pediatric dental caries have different causes. The most common is poor oral hygiene. Children do not have the required skill to brush their teeth properly, a circumstance that facilitates the formation and accumulation of bacterial plaque, engendering the subsequent formation of cavities.

Other factors that promote dental caries are:

    • Consumption of foods and drinks with a high level of sugar.
    • The intake of sticky foods that stick to the surface of the tooth.
    • Genetic predisposition such as the presence of cariogenic bacteria in the mouth.
    • Not receiving regular dental care to prevent cavities.
    • Little use of fluoride in oral hygiene practices.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) points out that another common cause is that children sleep while drinking a bottle and the sugars from the drink remain in the oral cavity, facilitating the formation of plaque and dental caries. In other words, dental caries in children occur due to poor oral hygiene, the consumption of unsuitable foods, the lack of timely dental care, and – in some cases – predisposing genetic factors.


What signs do child dental caries present?

a child with discoloration of teeth
a child with discoloration of teeth

One of the first symptoms of cavities in children is the appearance of white spots or discolorations on the teeth. Those spots are not very obvious at first, but over time, they can become visible and darken. In addition, dental sensitivity and discomfort appear when consuming hot, cold, or sweet foods or drinks. There is also discomfort when brushing teeth.

Another common sign is the presence of holes or cavities in the teeth, which are the result of perforation of the dental enamel. In the early stages, caries can be asymptomatic, which is why it is convenient to make periodic visits to the dentist and detect any signs in time.


What consequences do dental caries have on children?

Frequently, it is considered that since dental caries affect milk teeth, the primary dentition, it is of no great relevance since these teeth will change into permanent teeth. This is an incorrect perception and ignoring it can affect the oral health of children.

a child smiling
a child smiling

Caries in milk teeth can affect the normal development of permanent dentition, as well as affect the alignment of permanent teeth.

Some of the consequences of pediatric caries are:

    • Gum abscesses
    • Change in tooth color
    • Pain and discomfort with food intake
    • dental fractures
    • Higher cost of required dental care


How can dental caries in children be prevented?

The prevention of childhood dental caries is essential to maintain optimal oral health and facilitate the development of permanent dentition. Likewise, early detection and adequate treatment help to maintain good oral health. Some practices that prevent dental caries in children are:

    • Avoid drinking drinks with a high sugar or acid level.
    • Brush your teeth after consuming sugary or acidic foods/drinks.
    • Encourage the consumption of water, instead of sugary drinks.
    • Do not allow the child to fall asleep drinking a bottle, as sugars are a source of energy for oral bacteria.
    • Promote good oral hygiene, with a soft-bristled toothbrush and age-appropriate dental horn.
    • Make regular visits to the pediatric dentist.
High sugar foods and drinks
High-sugar foods and drinks
Brush your teeth after consuming sugar
Brush your teeth after consuming sugar
Consumption of water
Consumption of water
High sugar foods and drinks
High-sugar foods and drinks
Brush your teeth after consuming sugar
Brush your teeth after consuming sugar
Consumption of water
Consumption of water


What treatment is followed for cavities in children?

The first step is to determine the extent of tooth involvement, as well as the age of the child. After having defined these two characteristics, there are several alternatives:

    • Extraction: If the lesion reaches the root of the tooth, the procedure to follow is extraction.
    • Filling: This alternative allows the correction of small cavities that have not yet affected the nerve of the tooth.
    • Pulpectomy: procedure applied when the infection has reached the nerve of the tooth.
    • Metal crowns: It is applied in case of a major affectation in the crown of the tooth and thus facilitate the consumption and chewing of food.


Do not neglect the oral health of children

Early childhood caries should be treated as a priority since its progress will influence the development of permanent dentition. That is, they affect present and future oral health.

Daily brushing and flossing are two modes of prevention that parents can use for the oral health of their young children. The habit of rinsing the mouth after consuming acidic, sweet, or sticky foods should also be encouraged in children. The child must assume these practices regularly.

Likewise, it is important to make regular visits to a pediatric dentist to review and assess the child’s oral health. Parents can consult with professionals about the different methods they suggest to stimulate oral hygiene practices in their young children.


Frequently asked questions

The intervention required to treat caries in children, once their milk teeth have changed, is similar to that carried out in adults. In mild cases, if caries are detected early, it is possible to make a filling and seal the damaged area with a restorative material.

Dental caries in children tend to affect mainly the front and upper teeth at an early age, although other teeth can also be affected.

If caries in milk teeth are not treated, infections and premature tooth loss can result, which will cause future problems. Permanent teeth can shift into empty spaces, making it difficult for other permanent teeth to erupt properly, causing crooked or crowding problems. This can cause complications in oral development.

When it comes to feeding a child with cavities, it is important to offer a balanced and healthy diet. Here are some recommended foods:

Vegetables and fruits: Offer vegetables such as broccoli, celery, cucumber, and fruits such as pears. These foods are high in water and low in sugar, which helps maintain a healthier oral environment.
Spinach: Spinach is rich in beta-carotene, which is necessary to strengthen tooth enamel. You can include spinach in salads, soups, or even healthy smoothies.
Remember that it is important to limit or avoid foods high in sugars, such as candy, sugary drinks, and processed foods. Also, encourage good oral hygiene in your child by making sure they brush their teeth properly after every meal. It is also advisable to make regular visits with the dentist for proper dental care.


Contact Us

If you have any questions about dental conditions that talk about Dental Cavities in Toddlers or other topics, you can contact us at Channel Islands Family Dental as well as our page on Facebook. We look forward to your visit and we will make a timely diagnosis. Our dentists in  Oxnard,Santa Paula, Ventura, Newbury Parkand  Port Hueneme will be able to guide you toward the best treatment to take care of your health and give you back your best smile.



  1. American Academy of Pediatrics (December 19, 2022) AAP identifies key risk factors for dental caries in children /
  2. Hermida Bruno, M. L., Blanco Barbieri, J., Larrique Ibarra, M. N. ., Puig Abbate, M. F., & Volfovicz, R. (2022). Relationship between age, dental brushing, and caries experience in children. Latin American Journal of Pediatric Dentistry /
  3. Intramed (May 29, 2023) Early childhood caries /
  4. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (November 17, 2022) Take care of your children’s teeth /
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