I get this question from parents all the time. Sometimes the next statement is..."I don't understand, I've never had cavities, how is my child getting cavities?"
Thankfully, due to great public health initiatives and general knowledge, many parents know already to brush their kids teeth twice a day, for 2 minutes (which, by the way, we'll talk about later because I definitely do not do a full 2 minutes for my 2 toddlers...
The main reasons for why kids get cavities are a mix of 2 primary reasons - 1) oral hygiene aka how clean are we keeping the teeth? and 2) dietary habits. Is it true that there are some children that have anatomical defects in the teeth that may them slightly more predisposed to cavities but this is not the norm!
If I'm seeing a child whose teeth are really clean and parents endorse that they are brushing and flossing daily, my next question is regarding their child's eating habits. What we know is that children who tend to snack more, and "graze" throughout the day tend to have an increased risk for cavities because the mouth doesn't have time to cleanse itself inbetween! (Our spit and our tongue cleans out our mouth inbetween "feeds", and if we don't give our mouth a break and constantly feed it, that will increase our risk for cavities. So frequency of eating is one risk factor in increasings the risk of cavities, and the other is what the child is eating.
When I go grocery shopping, almost all children's snacks are highly cariogenic (causes cavities!) Many children snack on dried carbohydrates (Cheez-its, goldifsh, pretzels, veggie sticks), and I have literally seen goldfish particles in my own toddler's teeth hours, yes HOURS after! So what is the harm regarding dried carbohydrates? It's not candy...however, carbohydrates break down into sugar, which is a food source for our oral bacteria, and the longer the food stays on the teeth, well the sugar bags have a feast, and as they break down the sugar, the byproduct is...sugar bug poop as I like to call it to the kiddos, or cavities.
What can you do as a parent or guardian to help prevent cavities?
1. Bring your child to the pediatric dentist starting at age 1. Prevention is key!
2. If you have a toddler (or 2 like me!) if you can at least brush their teeth with a smear of fluoridated toothpaste once a day for 20 seconds, that's awesome! (When kids turn 3 they can have a pea-sized amount!)
3. Floss your child's teeth when their teeth touch (most important to get to those back molars which usually start to contact/kiss at age 3!)
4. Limit snacking to twice/day. Have organized meal and snack times. Great snacks for your kids that are Dr. Gazdeck approved: cheese, yogurt, applesauce, meat (chicken nuggets!), nuts, fresh fruit.
5. Anything that is not water have your child drink it through a straw so it doesn't touch the teeth as much. Also teeth love WATER the most! The only 2 drinks my children get unless it is a special occasion are water and milk. Bubbly water is NOT the same thing as water. Anything carbonated increases our risk for cavities!
6. Avoid sticky candies/granola bars. Dr. Gazdeck has a sweet tooth though...and the sweets you want to veer your children to are straight chocolate (no caramels in the middle!), and ice cream as it melts off the teeth.
Would you like more reading on this topic?
I Love love love this book called: More Chocolate, No Cavities. It is written by a colleague of mine Dr. Roger Lucas who is not only a pediatric dentist but also a biochemist who writes in a very easy-to-read way on how to practically keep your child cavity-free!