why kids get cavities. how to prevent cavities.

Why kids get cavities. How to prevent your child from getting one.

It was a normal day for me at work.  The only thing different about this day  was my kids and my husband were coming in for their routine check up and cleaning.

My assistant took my four year old to take his x-rays and do his cleaning.  I was in the other room working on getting my husband’s teeth clean.

I was a little worried because I knew the last time my son came in he hated the toothpaste and was not cooperative to finish his cleaning.

When my assistant brought my son in, he was so happy because he was a big boy and got his “pictures taken” of his teeth.  

I pulled up his xrays.  I saw it and my heart sank.  

My son has a cavity!

I double checked and triple check the x-rays and it was there.  Clear as day.  

Yep. He has a cavity.

I felt terrible. I felt the mommy guilt.  Like I had failed.

I finally understood what it felt like when parents brought their kids in and I had to break the news that Billy has a cavity.

The crazy thing is I knew that it could happen because he loves juice and milk before bed. But I thought magically he would be okay.

This does not have to be your story.  There are ways to help prevent your child (and yourself) from getting cavities.

How cavities form

To understand how to prevent cavities, you must have a basic understanding of how cavities form.

To understand how to prevent cavities, you must have a basic understanding of how cavities form. Click To Tweet

I am going to give you the simple version without all of the science.  

Disclaimer: I probably made this overly simple, but this is the basics.

There are bacteria in your mouth.  Just like you, they need food to eat in order to survive and thrive.  The bacteria feed off of the foods you eat.  When they eat some of the brownies or Ritz crackers you just ate, they produce an acid as a by product.  The acid is what breaks your teeth and eventually causes a cavity.

From my experiencing and talking with parents, these are the top 3 reasons why cavities form: poor oral hygiene, increased frequency of carbs and refined sugars and deep pits and grooves on teeth.

Let’s break these down and see what can be done differently to prevent cavities.


Poor oral hygiene

When you don’t do a good job of brushing or don’t brush your teeth at all, you leave your teeth vulnerable.  Just imagine pouring acid on your new sofa. If you don’t rinse it off quickly, the acid will destroy your sofa.

That is why it is so important to brush twice a day.  Brushing removes food and plaque that contribute to the formation of those terrible cavities.  

If anything make sure that your child thoroughly brushes before going to sleep.

Once they brush, no more snacks or beverages.  Only water.

After your child brushes at night before bed time, no more snacks. Only water. Click To Tweet

This is what got me in trouble with my son.  I would brush his teeth.  Then right before he goes to sleep, he would give me the Puss in Boots eyes and ask for milk.  

Because of those eyes and I really don’t feel like dealing with tantrums, I would give him milk and NOT brush his teeth again.

Big mistake.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.

Increase frequency of carbs and refined sugars

I know you want to do what is best for your little angel and keep her happy.  You have to limit the sugary snacks.  

I know those fruit snacks seem like a healthy choice because the package says it is packed with 100% vitamin C.  These kids need their vitamin C, especially during flu season.

Be careful with the fruit snacks because they are sticky and will hang on to your little one’s teeth.  Making their teeth more susceptible to getting a cavity.

If your child is eating lots of snacks throughout the day, you may want to check and make sure that they are not high in carbs and sugars.  The increase in the amount of times your child eats these snacks, leaves your child’s teeth more and more exposed to getting a cavity.

Try snacks high in protein and fiber.  Like cheese, celery and nuts.

Try snacks high in protein and fiber. Like cheese, celery and nuts. Click To Tweet

Deep pits and grooves

Sometimes it is not because your child isn’t brushing their teeth or eating candy all day.  Sometimes it is just purely the anatomy on their teeth.  

The back teeth in particular, can have really deep grooves and pits.  This can be very difficult to keep clean because the toothbrush can’t reach these areas.

This is where sealants can be beneficial.  Sealants are a protective coat that goes into these grooves.  

Just like you paint your nails with nail polish.  The grooves on the back teeth are painted with the sealant material that harden with a special light. This protects those deep grooves from getting food stuck and slowly growing into a cavity.

Mom, you are awesome and you are doing a good job.  Even if your child has had a cavity in the past, now you have the tools to help prevent it from happening again.

Trust me, I am not letting those Puss in Boots eyes fool me again.

Check out my handy list of snacks that your teeth love below.

With lots of love,

Dr Toni


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  3. Emily

    Firstly, I love the look of your blog! Love the colours!

    I just took my kids to the dentist the other day. So far no cavities but just areas to monitor. My kids teeth are close together which also makes it harder. We need to work on brushing our toddlers teeth! It’s so hard to brush her teeth!

    1. Thank you!! I really appreciate that!!
      Yes, teeth that are close together are more challenging … they take a little more time to throughly clean and if they are not cleaned well, can develop cavities easier than a child with lots of space between their teeth. It can be tough with the toddlers because they usually don’t want you in their mouth. If they let you in, you have about 10 good seconds to brush before they begin to protest. You can take a look at this post I wrote on tips to get your toddler to brush to make things more enjoyable for both of you. 🙂 thanks for stopping by!

  4. Darlene Dee

    Thanks for the simple breakdown. That is really helpful! I have a rule with the toddler that mommy gets to brush her teeth first and then she gets to do it. That way I know they are getting clean.

    1. I am glad this was helpful.
      Good job mom! That is a great way to make sure all those teeth get cleaned. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. val

    So helpful! We’ve avoided cavities thus far, thankfully

  6. Kate

    My husband does bedtime 99% of the time, and he’s definitely guilty of the whole brush, give in and let the 2 year old have some milk, the send him to bed without brushing again thing. Makes me crazy. I’m going to share this with him so he knows why I’m always nagging about it!

    1. You are not alone. Once my husband saw what was going on and I showed him all of the cavities he started to support me in the night routine. It was unfortunate it had to get that far, but I want to as many moms out there to avoid this. I honestly believe the juice and milk right before bed was the culprit. Don’t give up. I don’t know if your husband is a dollar and cents kinda guy … if he is let him know that it is going to be expensive to fix the teeth later. Fillings can range between anywhere between $100-300 per tooth without dental insurance. Prevention is way cheaper. I hope this helps!

  7. Leah

    Great article. My poor little girl has 2 cavities right on her front two teeth. We have never sent her to bed with a bottle and we have always brushed her teeth before bed AND before nap time. The dentist told me it could be a bacteria that we (her parents) have that we may have passed onto her. My husband takes better care of his teeth than anyone I know and he ALWAYS seems to have cavities regardless. It’s sad and I definitely feel mom-guilt about it. I love that you offer a list of foods teeth love. I think I’m going to have to sign-up for that. Thanks!

    1. Thanks! I know that was hard especially when you are doing all of the right things. There is another side to the story about getting cavities that dentist and doctors are trying to better understand. That is the bacteria that cause the cavities. So many times I will see two siblings and the kid that never brushes their teeth has no cavities, but the one that brushes every day, twice a day gets cavities! This is when I know that the bacteria in the mouth is playing a role in things. Just like you hear people talking about having good gut bacteria and trying to balance out the bacteria in the gut … kinda the same concept with the mouth. We are still trying to understand all of the bacteria and the ones that are more problematic. But your dentist is right. You can pass bacteria from your mouth to your child’s mouth (by putting the pacifier in your mouth, sharing the same utensils during feeding time, etc). I believe in the coming years your dentist will be able to take a sample of your spit and be able to let you if you are more susceptible to cavities, gum disease, oral cancer and give you a detailed homecare plan to keep you healthy. Definitely, check out the food list. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Jameelah

    My little guy got his 1st cavity last year and I was devastated! Thanks for the helpful tips!

    1. It’s ok mommy! I know the feeling. I hope some of these tips are helpful so that your little one won’t have any more in the future.

  9. Lauren

    Thank you for sharing! I had tons of cavities as a kid and I am SO glad that my 8 year old hasn’t had one. She was always really good about brushing and allowing us to help her. My 5 year old is a totally different story and fights us everytime. I was shocked when he didn’t have a cavity at his last appt. Keeping my fingers crossed we can continue to keep the sugar bugs away!

    1. You are doing great! Don’t give up on the 5-year-old. He will come around. 🙂 I am glad that they are both cavity free! Woohoo!

  10. Jasmine

    Thanks for the great information! I try to be diligent in keeping my son’s teeth healthy and also feel a little guilt when he gets a cavity.

    1. I am glad you found this helpful. As moms, we never want our child to get a cavity but know that you are doing a great job. That mommy guilt can be pretty bad.

  11. Jalisa

    I pray every dentist visit my son doesn’t have a cavity. He still at age four dislikes brushing his teeth so I try and find ways to make it seem a little fun.

    1. I feel the same way about my four-year-old when he comes to the office.
      I hope your son at least doesn’t throw a tantrum when it is time to brush his teeth. 🙂
      I have a post (coming soon) that will be featured on therealmomkit.com on tips to get your child to brush your teeth that may be helpful.

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