Oct 20 2021

Cavities: How to Tell Your Child Has One and What to Do About It

Unhappy girl suffering from toothache from cavity, touching cheek

Cavities are permanent holes in the teeth’s surface caused by tooth decay. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of all children aged 2 to 19 years old experience a cavity. Poor oral hygiene, a diet high in starches and sugars, and other factors raise the risk of developing tooth decay at any age.

Although children may not experience symptoms initially, cavities get worse and more prominent over time when left untreated. If you believe that your child may have a cavity, here are five signs to look out for:

1. Toothaches

Discomfort is one of the most common symptoms of cavities. However, cavities typically do not hurt until they are deep enough into the tooth to affect the underlying tissue and nerves. Pain can range from mild to unbearable. Toothaches can come suddenly, be ongoing, or trigger when chewing or biting down. 

2. Sensitivity

Does your child experience a sensitivity that lingers after enjoying food and drinks that are:

  • Hot
  • Cold
  • Sweet
  • Acidic
  • Sticky

Sensitivity could be a sign of a cavity. As the enamel (surface of the teeth) erodes, it can affect the dentin (layer of dental tissue below the enamel). When there is an inadequate amount of enamel, the dentin is exposed and can stimulate the cells and nerves inside the tooth.

3. Stains

If you notice white, brown, or black stains on the surface of your child’s tooth, it may be the start of a cavity. As dental decay advances, the staining becomes darker (brown or black spots) and more widespread.

4. Holes or Pits in Teeth

When stains worsen, they turn into a hole or pit in the tooth. In terms of size, they can range from tiny openings to being large enough to break the tooth itself. They may be visually noticeable or able to be felt when your child runs their tongue over the surface of their teeth. Some holes or pits, especially in crevices or between teeth, are challenging to see or feel. However, they may still cause discomfort or sensitivity. 

5. Abscessed Tooth

In a worst-case scenario, an untreated cavity can spread to the gums and cause a tooth abscess. An abscess is a pocket of pus that forms around the infected tooth root caused by bacterial infection. Some symptoms of an abscessed tooth include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Intense, unrelenting pain that is severe enough to interfere with daily activities and sleeping
  • Discomfort in the jaws, ears, or gums
  • Swelling in the gums or face

In treatment, dentists must drain an abscess. Some patients may require a root canal and dental crown. If the infection spreads to the jawbone, the tooth must be pulled.

Schedule a Pediatric Dental Exam in Overland Park, KS

Overall, the symptoms of cavities greatly depend on the size and location in the mouth. For example, larger cavities are more noticeable and may cause more discomfort as the tooth weakens. Furthermore, cavities often form in the back teeth (molars and premolars) because they have many grooves and pits that collect food particles and bacteria.
Excellent dental care, offering nutritious snacks, and routine dental checkups can prevent the formation of cavities. However, if you suspect that your child may be suffering from tooth decay, it’s imperative to seek immediate attention so that the problem does not worsen. Dr. Matt applies contemporary techniques to identify and treat childhood cavities. Schedule an appointment with us by calling (913) 685-9990 or conveniently requesting an appointment online.

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