Try as you might, keeping your child’s teeth clean is more difficult than it seems! And even though you encourage healthy eating and oral hygiene habits, signs of tooth decay in toddlers can still appear. Just like your own, your toddler’s teeth and gums are the ‘left and right hands’ of oral hygiene. One serves as a friend to the other, and when one suffers, they both do.
Left unchecked, advanced tooth decay causes abscesses, which are extremely painful for toddlers. At this late stage, the only option may very well be surgery. The good news? While it’s impossible to fully reverse a cavity, providing your toddler with a solid foundation of oral health will allow the rest of their healthy tooth enamel to strengthen and work to combat future decay.
How to prevent tooth decay in toddlers
Yes, you can stop cavities forming—provided you take a proactive approach. Preventing tooth decay in toddlers pivots around two things: good habits and good sense.
1. Promote good oral hygiene
One of the first steps to managing tooth decay in toddlers is regular flossing. Sounds like a no-brainer, but an American study showed that almost 40 percent of adults never floss!
We know flossing can be a hassle, and it’s admittedly not the most fun thing to do, but it is an absolute non-negotiable for good oral health.
Flossing the area where the gums meet the teeth prevents gum disease and infection by disrupting plaque. Saliva, in combination with diet, causes mouth bacteria to continuously grow into clusters, known as plaque. Plaque is pretty harmless at first, but it can develop into tartar if not kept in check. In time, tartar will show up as dark stains on your toddler’s gums—the first signs of disease.
Encourage your toddler to floss often and early, and you’ll not only prevent tooth decay, you’ll set them up for great oral habits later in life.
2. Brush well, and often
Tooth brushing twice a day is enough to combat tooth decay in toddlers, right? At a minimum, yes, but remember: plaque is constantly forming in your toddler’s mouth. This is especially true if your little one consumes sugary food.
Here’s the thing: foods with a lot of sugar and starch contribute to plaque more than others. This is especially true for foods that are sticky, like sweets and dried fruit. If your toddler is consuming these foods, be sure to brush after every treat and/or snack.
Plaque fact: there’s a lot of naturally occurring plaque stored beneath your toddler’s gumline. Keep it in check with regular brushing and regular dental visits.
3. Make good food choices
Did you know that some foods contain properties that actually serve to clean, strengthen and protect your toddler’s teeth?
- Any ‘crunchy’ raw fruit or vegetable will manually ‘scrub’ the plaque from your toddler’s teeth and gums. Be sure to offer these types of foods at snack and mealtimes
- Water containing fluoride partners with saliva to help your toddler’s teeth and gums defend against plaque, in addition to strengthening the enamel of their teeth
- Foods rich in phosphates and vitamin D, like most dairy, nuts and seeds, which provide teeth with the minerals they need to become strong and establish healthy enamel.
Food that causes tooth decay in toddlers
When it comes to avoiding cavities, most sugar-laden food is off-limits. Here are the worst sugary offenders:
- Juice, fizzy and other ‘fruit’ drinks might be tasty, but they often have comparable amounts of sugar that turn into acids in the mouth and greatly contribute to plaque
- Highly acidic food, including citrus fruit, can be damaging to your toddler’s teeth. While nutritious in their own right, lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit can work to erode tooth enamel if consumed regularly
- Sticky chewy foods like gummies will stick to your toddler’s teeth long after they’re swallowed. Their acids directly combat enamel, which eventually breaks down and fails to defend the internal tooth structure.
A combination of positive oral hygiene habits and a healthy diet are your strongest defence against tooth decay in toddlers. However, some children are more susceptible to tooth-damaging factors than others—learn more about the prevention, detection and treatment of toddler tooth decay. If your toddler’s tooth decay is already significant, please contact your dentist immediately.
Want to learn more about children’s dental care and tooth decay? Check out some of our other articles:
- How To Brush Baby Teeth: A New Parent Guide
- What is the Child Dental Benefit Scheme?
- Baby teething: when does it start and what to expect?
- Bottle rot: how to prevent baby tooth decay