Your child might brush and floss regularly, but you may be surprised at their next dental appointment to find out that they have several cavities. This can be confusing for parents who are diligent in making sure their children are keeping up with their oral health. However, what many parents don’t understand is that it is fairly common for children to get cavities no matter how well they clean their teeth. These are four of the reasons why children develop cavities.

1. Streptococcus Mutans

Dental caries (cavities) is the scientific name for the disease of tooth decay, and it is one of the most common illnesses children get. The cavities are caused by the bacteria known as Streptococcus mutans. These bacteria spread between family members (mostly mothers to children) sometimes via shared utensils and toothbrushes. It is considered an illness or disease because babies are born without this bacteria in their mouth. They only become affected by it once other saliva finds its way into a child’s mouth.

2. Blame It on Their Genes

The Strep mutans bacteria tend to run rampant through families. This means that for parents who had more cavities as kids, their children usually have the same issues.  

The myth of “soft teeth” running in families is really an issue of some people having more of the bacteria than others. Because these bacteria are more prevalent in some families than others, it explains why some children are more prone to develop cavities, no matter how good they are about brushing. This is also why some children can eat candy all the time and not brush their teeth regularly yet never have a cavity (…but this is obviously not recommended!)

3. The Bacteria Again, and Plaque

Once the bacteria have been passed on, they will start causing plaque to form. Plaque forms around the teeth and gum lines. It generally has a yellowish/white colour and can build up without proper care.  

The bacteria in the plaque feed on sugar. In doing so, they produce an acid that depletes calcium and erodes the structure of the teeth. This can be a major issue for children, who might be eating sugary foods throughout the day. This produces more plaque, leading to more of the acid forming. Over time, an area on the tooth without calcium gets so big that the surface collapses, creating a cavity.  

4. Food and Drink Today (Compared to the Past)

The food and drinks that children consume can play a part in determining how many cavities they may develop. Nowadays, children are at greater risk of developing cavities because of changes to their diets such as:

  • More Sugar:  Children are consuming much more sugar than they did in decades past. Since sugar feeds the bacteria that cause cavities, an increase in sugar will increase the risk of cavities forming. It isn’t just candy that provides the sugar either. Healthy snacks like dried fruits have high sugar contents. This is why it is important to watch what a child eats.
  • Acidic Drinks:  Fruit juices, sports drinks, and sodas contain citric and carbonic acid, which can erode the enamel in the teeth. The enamel contains the calcium in the tooth. As this part erodes, it becomes more susceptible to losing calcium caused by the acid the plaque creates. For this reason, care should be taken to get the child to make a habit of rinsing their mouth out after drinking these types of beverages.
  • Bottled Water: Most water supplies have fluoride added to help strengthen teeth. This was a great public health service, but one rendered moot since parents switched to giving their children bottled water. Most bottled waters are not fluoridated, so kids’ teeth aren’t as strong because of the lower levels of fluoride.  

Practicing good dental care should start in childhood. Still, parents should remember that no matter how well their kids clean their teeth, they can still get cavities. Because the amounts of bacteria vary from child to child, the best precaution is to maintain proper care so the risk for cavities will be reduced.