First Cavity: What to Do When Your Child Gets a Cavity

Children and dad

When the dentist first informs you that your child has a cavity, you may be surprised. Yes, even children with good dental habits can get cavities. You see, there are a number of reasons why cavities occur. Some causes, like eating sugary foods or not brushing and flossing regularly, are within your control. Other causes, like genetics, are not.

Let’s go over what you need to know about your child’s first cavity and how you can help prevent them in the future.

Baby teeth vs. permanent teeth

It’s usually best to have the cavity filled, even if it’s not in a permanent tooth. Why, if the tooth is going to fall out eventually? First, there is a risk of the tooth becoming sensitive or painful. Also, the bacteria involved could grow, which may require that the tooth be pulled. Lastly, the bacteria could spread to other teeth.

You may wonder how important cavities in baby teeth are, but despite what you may have heard, baby teeth do have a purpose. They hold space in a child’s mouth until the adult teeth break through. Without them, permanent teeth can grow crookedly, affecting the ability to chew and speak, and resulting in a less-than-perfect smile. That’s why filling a cavity is usually recommended—even in baby teeth. Learn about other misunderstandings about cavities in the article, 6 Cavity Myths – Busted!

Treatment for cavities

If your child is old enough and the affected tooth is expected to fall out soon, you may decide not to have the cavity filled. But, if it’s next to a permanent tooth, you’ll want to have it addressed before it damages the adult tooth.

If the dentist says a filling is needed you will need to discuss how to numb the area so the dentist can fill the cavity. Repairing a cavity requires drilling, so that means a shot is mandatory. While no one likes to be stuck with a needle, some children are panicked at the thought of shots.

In those cases, you can speak with the dentist about using nitrous oxide (laughing gas), or a sedative that can be taken by mouth. Either will help calm your child and make it possible to do any shots that are needed to numb the area.

How can you help things go smoothly? Try to prepare your child before the visit. Stay calm and cheerful as you talk about it. This is especially important if you tend to get anxious yourself. Keep it simple; too much detail may overwhelm your child.

If your little one complains about the numbness after the procedure, simply assure him or her that the feeling will go away soon.

Fillings for children

There are currently two types of fillings used to repair cavities: amalgam and composite.

Amalgams are silver-colored fillings. They are generally more durable and less expensive than composites, which is why they are covered by most dental insurance plans. They are also quicker to apply, so less time is spent in the dental chair, which can be a plus if you have a squirmy little one!

There is some controversy about amalgams that you should be aware of. Amalgams contain mercury, which is toxic. Yet, the American Dental Association still supports the use of amalgams and believes they are safe. The other potential downsides to amalgams are that they require more drilling, and they may expand and crack over time.

Composites are white/tooth-colored fillings. They are not as durable as amalgams and can stain. They take a bit longer to apply and are about 25% more expensive than amalgams, which is why they are not always covered by insurance.

Your child’s dentist may recommend which filling to use, but as the parent you will ultimately decide what the best choice is for you and your child.

Preventing cavities in children

Cavities happen when bacteria and food are left in the mouth. Eventually they soften the teeth and cause a cavity or hole. Prevention is the best way to fight future cavities. For some tips on what kids should eat, see the article, Top 12 Types of Food to Improve Your Kid’s Dental Health.

Unfortunately, kids with cavities in their baby teeth are likely to develop them in their permanent teeth, as well. Also, some kids are just more prone to cavities, especially if there is a family history. Your dentist may recommend a protective sealant or resin to help preserve your child’s permanent teeth after they come in.

In the meantime, stick to the basics. Proper brushing and flossing, a healthy diet, and limiting sugary foods and drinks will help prevent cavities at every stage of your child’s life.