What is tooth decay?
Tooth decay is a disease that causes damage to tooth structure.
If bits of food are left on the teeth after a drink or meal, germs in the mouth (called plaque) can turn those tiny bits of food into acid. Over time, this acid eats away at the surface of the tooth, creating holes or ‘cavities’.
Tooth decay can cause pain, infection and even have an effect on a child’s growth.
The longer tooth decay is left untreated, the more the risk of:
- Pain and discomfort
- A higher risk of new decay in other teeth
- More complicated and expensive treatment, such as a root canal
- Anxiety when he does visit a dentist, because of an association between dentists and pain
- Loss of time at school
Early signs of tooth decay
Early tooth decay can be difficult to recognise without training which is why regular trips to the dentist are vital.
The first sign of tooth decay is when the upper incisors develop a dull, white band along the gum line. Brown spots on the teeth as well as red and swollen gums may also become apparent.
In more advanced stages of tooth decay, blackened areas will show up on the teeth, while gums may still look red and swollen.
Preventing tooth decay with good dental care
Regular dental check-ups, brushing and flossing are essential steps towards the prevention of tooth decay.
Cleaning and caring for children’s teeth early on will ensure good dental habits for life.
Preventing tooth decay with healthy eating and drinking
Effective teeth brushing alone won’t guarantee against tooth decay. The sort of food and drink you give your teen can affect the development of tooth decay.
Children and teens need to consume a wide arrange of different healthy food and snacks. Foods and drinks that are low in sugar are best. Encourage your teen to avoid eating sweet biscuits, chocolate or cakes on a regular basis. If your child is eating a sweet treat, drinking a glass of water or having an accompanying low sugar snack (cheese and chopped vegetables like carrots and celery are better options) can reduce the amount of acid on his teeth.The longer food and drink stays in your child’s mouth, the more chance there is for acid to develop and cause damage to tooth enamel. This means that frequent snacking and sipping drinks over longer periods of time are more likely to cause tooth decay.
Discourage your child from lengthy periods of snacking by:
- Establishing regular snack and meal times, rather than all-day grazing
- Making sure that while at home your teen eats and drinks in one place only, such as the kitchen table
- Putting food away when snack or mealtime is over
- Encouraging your child to drink water if she feels thirsty
- Giving your child sweet foods as part of a meal rather than as a snack.
Sports drinks can cause erosion to your child’s teeth, particularly when consumed regularly.
Encourage your child to instead, drink plenty of water. When he does sports drinks, it’s a good idea for him to rinse with water straight away and to ideally brush his teeth with a fluoride toothpaste ideally within an hour after.