40% of children in the United States have at least one cavity by the time they reach kindergarten. While tooth decay is largely preventable, this reality has emerged for a number of reasons, including ignorance of the importance of brushing teeth at an early age – 41% of parents surveyed believe that brushing should start at age three The lack of dental hygiene products at home. The worst reason is the one that has lasted for generations.
Many parents still think that baby teeth are not important.
Baby teeth cannot be neglected simply because they will eventually be replaced. Their primary teeth should last from six to ten years according to age. A cavity at the age of three or four should be treated immediately. (Ideally, preventing tooth decay in the first place is always the best plan. See our tips at the end of this post.)
Here are 7 reasons you shouldn’t wait for baby teeth to fall out:
1. Tooth decay becomes more expensive the longer you wait.
A small cavity is much cheaper to treat than a larger cavity because it takes less product and less time to correct. Calling your dentist as soon as a cavity is discovered will always cost less in the long run, usually between $150 and $300 depending on where you live.
Your dentist may even choose to treat cavities with silver diamine fluoride, which will stop the cavities from progressing, if you think the teeth will fall out naturally in the near future. This will avoid more costly procedures later on and will prevent the infection from spreading to nearby teeth.
If the cavity is left unchecked, it may reach the pulp and root before the tooth is ready to fall out, which could lead to a costly root canal or a trip to the emergency room. The average cost for a root canal ranges from $600 to $1,400 plus the cost of a crown, which is typically around $1,000 and is not covered by most state-funded dental plans.
2. Tooth decay hurts. Much.
Once the cavity reaches the inner nerve of the tooth, the pain can be excruciating. Children with tooth decay lose sleep and find it difficult to eat. The pain can also cause difficulty concentrating in school – if they can make it to school at all. Dental disease is a major cause of absenteeism and leads to two million school days lost each year.
Some parents think that the cheapest option may be simply to extract the decayed tooth rather than fill it. Your dentist will likely advise against doing this for two reasons:
3. Early tooth loss affects speech development.
We don’t think much about teeth when it comes to speaking, but they are essential for young children to speak clearly. Tooth loss – especially the upper or lower front teeth – before the age of three can lead to impaired speech that can persist even years later.
4. Tooth loss may result in the cost of orthodontic treatment at a later time.
Another function of the primary teeth is to hold space for the permanent teeth that they will eventually replace. Whether a tooth was lost due to decay or extraction, premature loss of adult teeth can cause a misalignment and need costly orthodontic treatment. Crooked teeth are more than unsightly, and can also cause pain, speech problems, and are difficult to keep clean.
5. Untreated tooth decay leads to bone loss and lifelong dental expenses.
When a milky tooth is left untreated, the cavity can spread to the adult tooth below it or, if the child is very young, to the bone holding the tooth in place. Marilyn* told us how childhood decay in her second premolar still cost her a lot well into her forties.
“I remember crying at night because my teeth hurt so bad,” she said. “My mother couldn’t afford a dental visit but gave me Tylenol and anesthetic gel to help me sleep, but it didn’t help me much. I think I was four. I pulled out the tooth into bits, little brown shards that looked like popcorn husks.” In the end, once all the pieces were removed, the pain was gone but the damage extended to the empty cavity where the tooth once lived.
When I grew my permanent teeth [usually around age 11 or 12] It came sideways, leaning forward and sitting way lower than my other teeth. In my twenties, I got braces, which pulled the tooth up into the correct position, but exposed the root above the gum line,” “Of course, the root is not protected by enamel, so I had to get treatments to cover the exposed root, which cost me several hundred thousand dollars. The dentist says it’s only a matter of time before I lose that tooth, too. Then I’ll need a bridge. I don’t want to think about how much it will cost me.”
6. The infection can spread from the cavities to other parts of the body.
Tooth decay is caused by an infection. The bacteria that cause tooth decay can infect the bloodstream and have been linked to other diseases including heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer. In some cases, the infection can spread to the brain. Sadly, that was the case for the 12-year-old Deamonte Driver. The dental care he needed was delayed so long that he ended up in the hospital for six weeks and needed two surgeries which ultimately failed to save his life.
Although cases like this are rare, these types of infections send 61,000 people to hospital each year and lead to 66 deaths.
7. Ignoring cavities teaches children that their presence is normal. it’s not.
When parents think that tooth decay is not important, their children grow up believing that too. Children need to learn that although cavities are common, they are not normal and are easy to prevent.
“I’m not healthy without good oral health.” —Former surgeon General C. Everett Cup
Kids who don’t learn to brush their teeth for two minutes, twice each day and visit their dentist twice each year, will grow into adults with unhealthy mouths. Adults with poor oral health often have other health complications and limited job opportunities.
The good news is that by inculcating healthy dental care habits at an early age, children can live free of tooth decay and the costly care needed to treat it.
Here are some tips for keeping your child’s teeth healthy from birth to adulthood:
Proper oral care begins at birth.️
- Wipe your baby’s mouth after each feeding with a soft cloth to remove bacteria and get them used to the feeling of cleaning their mouths.
- When the first tooth appears, start with regular dental visits and use a smear of toothpaste with a soft-bristled brush.
- Don’t expose your baby to harmful bacteria in your mouth by “cleaning” the pacifier in your mouth, sharing utensils or blowing on his food to cool it.
Children should visit the dentist regularly – not just when there is a problem.
- Take your child for his first dental exam as soon as his first teeth appear or by his first birthday – whichever comes first. These early visits will help prevent fear of the dentist and spot any problems that may develop from thumb or finger sucking.
- Your dentist will also teach you how to properly care for your child’s teeth and provide services to prevent tooth decay such as fluoride treatments and sealants when molars erupt.
- Children should visit the dentist every six months. All preventive dental visits must be covered by health insurance plans, so there’s no reason to skip them!
Brush with your toddler.
- The monkey sees, the monkey does, they say. Set a good example by brushing your teeth with your young children so they can see proper technique. Let them brush their teeth but always end up making sure every spot is clean.
- Use a 2-minute timer or song to make sure she brushes for the recommended amount of time. Follow this up with a child-friendly mouthwash to clean the soft tissues as well.
Don’t miss the floss.
- Once the teeth grow close enough to touch each other, it’s time to learn how to floss! Daily flossing is essential to prevent plaque from forming between the teeth and under the gum line to prevent gum disease. Establish this habit early so that children can grow into adults with healthy smiles that will last a lifetime. Learn more about the thread here.
Take sugar consumption seriously.
- The bacteria that cause tooth decay love sugar and you get a lot of it from more than just candy. Sugar-laden beverages such as soda, sports drinks, and fruit juice should be restricted to mealtimes only. Water or milk is the best option for a healthy smile.
- Likewise, starchy foods like pasta, chips, and crackers can stick to the teeth like gum and quickly turn into sugar. Replace these snacks with healthy, dental options including cheese or crunchy foods like carrots or apple slices.
Maintain healthy habits as children get older.️
- Kids who learn a healthy oral hygiene routine when they are young often grow up into their teens with excellent dental hygiene habits, but this is no time for slack! Make sure you keep up with brushing twice a day for two minutes and flossing daily as well.
- Self-conscious teens may be tempted to try these irresponsible internet trends to get the “perfect smile”. Be the first to warn them of how it can lead to tooth loss.
- Many teens think vaping is safer than smoking, but it can have a devastating effect on their smiles. Read more about it here.
Cavities don’t have to be a part of childhood. Kids can be proud of their healthy smile and avoid the pain and embarrassment of cavities. Follow the tips above to make sure the kids in your life grow up with healthy habits that will last into adulthood for a life of healthy smiles!
Find a printable version of this article, Fun educational activity sheets and dental health tracking charts, plus tools for finding your child’s dentist on our resource page.