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How to Prevent Cavities

Childhood cavities, also known as childhood tooth decay and childhood caries, are common in children all over the world.  There are two main causes of cavities: poor dental hygiene and sugary diets.

Cavities can be incredibly painful and often lead to tooth decay and childhood periodontitis if left untreated. Ensuring that children eat a balanced diet, embarking on a sound home oral care routine, and visiting the dentist twice a year are all crucial factors for both cavity prevention and excellent oral health.

What causes cavities?

Cavities form when children’s teeth are exposed to sugary foods on a regular basis.  Sugars and carbohydrates (like the ones found in white bread) collect on and around the teeth after eating.  A sticky film (plaque) then forms on the tooth enamel.  The oral bacteria within the plaque continually ingest sugar particles and emit acid.  Initially, the acid attacks the tooth enamel, weakening it and leaving it vulnerable to tooth decay.  If conditions are allowed to worsen, the acid begins to penetrate the tooth enamel and erodes the inner workings of the tooth.

Although primary (baby) teeth are eventually lost, they fulfill several important functions and should be protected.  It is essential that children brush and floss twice per day, and visit the dentist twice a year for cleanings.  Sometimes the dentist coats teeth with a sealant and provides fluoride supplements to further bolster the mouth’s defenses.

How will I know if my child has a cavity?

Large cavities can be excruciatingly painful, whereas tiny cavities may not be felt at all.  Making matters even trickier, cavities sometimes form between the teeth, making them invisible to the naked eye.  Dental X-rays and the dentist’s trained eyes help pinpoint even the tiniest of cavities so they can be treated before they worsen.

Some of the major symptoms of cavities include:

  • Heightened sensitivity to cool or warm foods
  • Nighttime waking and crying
  • Pain
  • Sensitivity to spicy foods
  • Toothache

If a child is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to visit the pediatric dentist.  Failure to do so will make the problem worse, leave the child in pain, and possibly jeopardize a tooth that could have been treated.

How can I prevent cavities at home?

Biannual visits with the dentist are only part of the battle against cavities.  Here are some helpful guidelines for cavity prevention:

  1. Analyze the diet – Too many sugary or starchy snacks can expedite cavity formation.  Replace sugary snacks like candy with natural foods where possible, and similarly, replace soda with water.  The world health organization recommends no  more than three teaspoons of sugar intake for a child each day to prevent dental cavities and childhood obesity.  
  2. Cut the snacks – Snacking too frequently can unnecessarily expose teeth to sugars.  Save the sugar and starch for mealtimes, when the child is producing more saliva, and drinking water.  Make sure they consume enough water to cleanse the teeth.
  3. Lose the sippy cup – Sippy cups are thought to cause “baby bottle tooth decay” when they are used beyond the intended age (approximately twelve months).  The small amount of liquid emitted with each sip causes sugary liquid to continually swill around the teeth.
  4. Avoid stickiness – Sticky foods (like toffee) form plaque quickly and are extremely difficult to pry off the teeth.  Avoid them when possible.
  5. Rinse the pacifier – Oral bacteria can be transmitted from mother or father to baby.  Rinse a dirty pacifier with running water as opposed to sucking on it to avoid contaminating the baby’s mouth.
  6. Drinks at bedtime – Sending a child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup is bad news.  The milk, formula, juice, or sweetened water basically sits on the teeth all night – attacking enamel and maximizing the risk of cavities.  Ensure the child has a last drink before bedtime, and then brush the teeth.
  7. Don’t sweeten the pacifier – Parents sometimes dip pacifiers in honey to calm a cranky child.  Do not be tempted to do this.  Use a blanket, toy, or hug to calm the child instead.
  8. Brush and floss – Parents should brush and floss their child’s teeth twice each day until the child reaches the age of seven years old.  Before this time, children struggle to brush every area of the mouth effectively.
  9. Check on fluoride –When used correctly, fluoride can strengthen tooth enamel and help stave off cavities.  Too much or too little fluoride can actually harm the teeth, so ask the pediatric dentist for a fluoride assessment.
  10. Keep to appointments – The child’s first dental visit should be scheduled around his or her first birthday, as per the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) guidelines.  Keep to a regular appointment schedule to create healthy smiles!

If you have questions or concerns about cavity prevention, please contact our office.


Read what people are saying about us.

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After many years of being self-conscious about my smile due to an overbite and overlapping teeth, I decided to have a consult about having braces (preferably Invisalign). Due to all the correction needed, wire braces were my only option. After 5 years of various correction procedures I am now proud of my smile. Dr. Jeff and the staff were always prompt and very encouraging during each visit.

~Sandy V.S.

I had an appointment this morning for a crown prep. I was seated a few minutes before my actual appointment time. I was seen immediately by the assistant who prepped me for my local anesthetic. The anesthetic was given gently and painlessly. When I was thoroughly numb the procedure was started and finished in a shorter time than I had thought it might be. I was happy with all the services I received. Everyone from office staff to those assisting and performing the services were courteous and efficient. Dr. Dahm was his usual friendly professional self. I would recommend this dental practice to anyone needing dental care.

~Sue S. (October 2016)

I know, through my own work experience, that working with the public can be trying at times, and sometimes it is difficult not to fall into a "negative" mode, which really does none of us any good. I am not sure whether a "negative" atmosphere shows its face when dealing with people, as much as a "positive" atmosphere does, or not. I am inclined to think not, but anyway, I would like to say that I am proud of everyone in your office, for creating and keeping that "positive" atmosphere, for all of us patients, because it truly does make a difference in the way we feel while we are there, and when we leave the office. I don't ever remember giggling several times during a dentist appointment, but couldn't help myself yesterday morning, as Dr. Dahm moved through the office, greeting, reassuring, and caring for people. The girls who helped me through the x-rays, molds, and other necessary procedures were awesome, as well! "Good Job", "You're doing great", etc., while in a place where most people are a little uncomfortable, at best, is so nice to hear. And, when I was confused about just where in my mouth my filling would go, the girls were so kind in explaining that they really were going to work on the correct tooth. LOL! I am running on here, but I think too often in business, the main feedback that people get, is the negative stuff. I have always tried to counter that, by letting people know when I really do appreciate what they have done "for" me, instead of "to" me, and I will be the first to admit that trust does not always come easy for me - just the way I am. And, I feel that an establishment's "true colors" show in instances like I had yesterday, when I needed some reassurance that everything was okay. I am so appreciative of the way everyone handled that (sorry that I took up precious time), but now I know, that if/when I truly do need help, it will be there, and given in a kind and understanding manner. That means a LOT to me! So, in closing, in the middle of the night, during my usual "awake" time, I just kept thinking WOW! I just don't know of a better way to express my feelings! And, of course, THANK YOU to everyone in that office, because it takes every person in an environment like that to maintain a caring and positive atmosphere! I notice and I appreciate all of it, and I would recommend anyone I know to become a patient there!

Pam B.

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