We have a lot of young families that come to our office. Parents want to do their best to make sure their children develop in a healthy way. Teeth are a big part of that. Kid’s Dentistry is based on keeping teeth healthy. When problems do arise, early detection and intervention are critical. Parents can help with this by knowing what to look for at home.
Parents value tips for keeping their child’s teeth and gums in good shape and often have questions for us. We chat about healthy eating and drinking habits and how to best help the kids with their brushing and flossing. One thing I like to do is talk to parents about signs of tooth decay so that they can help us in catching cavities early, before they cause significant damage.
Kid’s Dentistry: Tips for Spotting Tooth Decay (Cavities)
Small children develop cavities in some characteristic spots in the mouth. Here they are:
- In children that breastfeed/breastfed on demand through the night cavities commonly form on the front teeth near the gumline or in between the top two middle teeth (central incisors)
- Children with irregular brushing habits will commonly develop cavities on the tops of their back teeth or molars
- Children who do not floss regularly may develop cavities in between their back teeth (typically viewable only on an x-ray)
Cavities on Front Teeth
These cavities will typically have an yellow-orange or brown colouration. You will notice the colouration in between the front two teeth or at the gumline. Very rarely the cavity will take on a dark grey or black colouration. Again, these cavities form more commonly in children who drink breast milk or bottle feed through the night. In the picture to the left, there are 2 large cavities which are very visible and 2 smaller ones forming in between the teeth.
Cavities on Chewing Surfaces of Baby Molars (Back Teeth)
Most commonly these cavities take on a black or dark purple colouration and may have a faint “shadow” around them. Further, the colouration will appear in the deeper grooves on the biting surfaces of back teeth (molars). Parents will be able to spot these somewhat easily on lower back teeth. It is much more difficult to get a proper look at upper molars to detect cavities. It helps if your child lays down and tilts their head back in a well-lit room.
Cavities in Between Baby Molars
These cavities are rarely visible unless they have caused tooth fracture. Most commonly these cavities are detected on routine x-rays.
Colour Is Not Always a Reliable Indicator
Tooth stain can take on a number of different colours (most commonly brown or black). Stain most commonly collects in the grooves of back molar teeth. It is certainly possible to mistake this stain for a cavity on a back tooth. Ultimately, the best cavity detection is achieved under a proper high-powered light source. If you notice discolouration on your little one’s teeth, give your Family Dentist a call to have a check-up. When parents know what to look for, they show incredible vigilance in catching cavities early before significant damage is done.
Written by Dr. Kyle Hornby, Kitchener Family Dentist
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a dental condition or treatment.