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Kids tooth decay is a common dental issue that affects children of all ages, from newborns with their first emerging baby teeth to teenagers preparing for adulthood.

In fact, according to AIHW (the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare), children in Australia between the ages of 5 and 10 typically have an average of 1.5 deciduous teeth affected by decay, missing, or having fillings. Similarly, on average, Australian children aged 6 to 14 have 0.5 permanent teeth impacted by decay, missing, or containing fillings.

While prevalent, it’s also preventable and manageable with the right knowledge and practices. This comprehensive guide will take you through the various aspects of kids tooth decay, from understanding the causes to prevention and early intervention.

What Is Kids Tooth Decay?

Commonly called dental caries or cavities, decay in your kids’ teeth happens when bacteria wear down the enamel on teeth.

If you don’t keep an eye on your child’s teeth, these bacteria in a child’s mouth can cause cavities, which are essentially holes or damage on the tooth’s surface.

Why Do Kids Get Dental Decay?

Dental decay can develop in children due to several contributing factors. Here are some prevalent reasons for dental decay in children:

  • Poor Oral Hygiene: Insufficient or improper brushing and flossing allow bacteria and food particles to accumulate on teeth, leading to plaque formation. Plaque contains acid-producing bacteria that erode tooth enamel.
  • Diet High in Sugars: Consuming sugary foods and drinks, such as candies, sodas, fruit juices, and sweet snacks, provides a food source for cavity-causing bacteria. These bacteria convert sugars into acids that attack tooth enamel.
  • Frequent Snacking: Continuously snacking throughout the day, particularly on sugary or starchy foods, keeps teeth in contact with acids for longer durations, heightening the risk of decay.
  • Inadequate Fluoride Exposure: Fluoride, a mineral that fortifies tooth enamel and shields against decay, is essential. Inadequate fluoride intake from sources like water, toothpaste, or dental treatments can leave teeth susceptible to cavities.
  • Neglecting Dental Care: Postponing or skipping routine dental check-ups and cleanings may result in undetected and untreated dental problems, enabling decay to advance.
  • Deep Tooth Grooves: Some children may have deep grooves and pits in their molars, making it easier for plaque and bacteria to accumulate and cause decay to develop.
  • Poor Saliva Flow: Saliva is crucial in neutralising acids and protecting teeth. Conditions that reduce saliva production can increase the risk of dental decay.
  • Family History: A family history of dental decay may indicate a genetic predisposition, making some children more susceptible.
  • Medical Conditions: Medical conditions or medications can affect oral health and increase the chances of dental decay.
  • Infant Bottle Feeding: Putting a baby to bed with a bottle containing juice, milk, or any formula can lead to “baby bottle tooth decay” as the liquids pool around the teeth, providing a breeding ground for bacteria.

Preventing dental decay in children requires good oral hygiene practices from an early age, such as limiting sugary snacks and drinks, ensuring regular dental check-ups, and providing adequate fluoride exposure.

Dental professionals can guide on maintaining optimal oral health for children.

The Tooth Decay Process

The tooth decay process typically follows these stages:Kids-Tooth-Decay-checkup

  • Formation of Plaque: Harmful bacteria form a sticky film called plaque on the tooth’s surface.
  • Acid Production: When your child consumes sugary or starchy foods, these bacteria feed on them and produce acids that attack tooth enamel.
  • Enamel Demineralization: The acids demineralise or weaken the tooth enamel, making it susceptible to damage.
  • Cavity Formation: Over time, the demineralised areas can progress to cavities or holes in your child’s tooth.
  • Infection: If the cavity reaches the tooth’s pulp (inner tissue), it can lead to infection, which may require root canal treatment (RCT) or tooth extraction

Signs of Tooth Decay in Kids

Recognising the signs of tooth decay in children is essential for early intervention. Watch for:

  • White spots on the teeth (early demineralisation)
  • Brown or dark spots on the teeth (indicating cavities)
  • Toothaches or pain while eating
  • Increased tooth sensitivity, especially to hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods
  • Visible holes or pits on the teeth

If you notice any of these signs, seek dental treatment immediately.

Baby Teeth vs. Adult Teeth

It’s important to remember that both baby teeth (those little ones) and adult teeth (the permanent ones) can get hit by tooth decay.

Even though baby teeth will eventually make way for the big ones, they’re vital for your child’s growth and development. They help with speech and chewing and guide the proper eruption of adult teeth.

Baby teeth, also known as deciduous teeth, can experience tooth decay, which can have consequences beyond just pain. If left untreated, cavities in your kid’s baby teeth can lead to:

  • Painful toothaches.
  • Difficulty in eating and speaking.
  • Infections that may affect the developing adult teeth.

Taking Care of Children’s Teeth According to Their Age Group

Taking care of children’s teeth at different ages is essential for oral health. Here are the guidelines for each age group:

Newborns (0–6 Months)

  • Wipe your baby’s gums with a clean piece of cloth after feeding, even before teeth erupt.
  • Avoid having your baby sleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, or fruit juice, as it can lead to early childhood tooth decay.

Babies (6–24 Months)

  • When the first tooth appears (usually around six months), brush with a soft, infant-sized toothbrush and a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Gradually increase the toothpaste amount to a pea-sized portion as your child grows.
  • Avoid giving sugary drinks and snacks in a baby bottle.

Toddlers (2–3 Years)

  • Encourage toddlers to spit out toothpaste after brushing but not to rinse with water.
  • Supervise brushing until your child can do it effectively (usually around age 6).

Preschoolers (3–6 Years)

  • Continue supervising brushing and assist as needed.
  • Emphasise healthy eating habits, limiting sugary snacks and drinks.
  • Schedule the first dental visit by age 3.

School Age (6–12 Years)

  • Encourage regular brushing and flossing.
  • Teach children to drink water between meals and limit sugary snacks.
  • Promote mouthguards for sports activities to protect teeth.

Pre-teens (12–14 Years)

  • Continue emphasising oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups.
  • Discuss the importance of avoiding tobacco and maintaining a balanced diet.

Teens (15–18 Years)

  • Reinforce good oral hygiene habits, including daily flossing.
  • Encourage regular dental check-ups.
  • Educate your kids about how harmful sugary snacks and drinks, and smoking can be to their oral health.

Preventing Tooth Decay in Kids

Preventing kids tooth decay starts with good dental hygiene and healthy dietary choices. Here are easy yet effective steps to prevent tooth decay:

  • Start Early: Once you see your child’s first tooth, you must take care of it. Just grab a clean, damp cloth to give it a gentle wipe. When your child is old enough to spit (usually around age two), switch to fluoride toothpaste and brush their teeth twice a day.
  • Monitor Diet: Limit sugary and acidic foods and beverages. Encourage healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
  • Schedule Regular Dental Visits: Schedule your child’s first dental visit by their first birthday. Regular dental check-ups are crucial for early dental decay detection.
  • Go for Sealants: Consider dental sealants, a protective coating for the chewing surfaces of your kid’s molars.
  • Create Oral Hygiene Habits: Show your child how to brush and floss properly. And remember, it’s best not to share utensils, cups, or toothbrushes with them.

How Diet Influences Tooth Decay in a Child’s Teeth

It’s important to know how children’s eating habits can make or break their teeth.

  • Sugary Foods and Drinks: Foods and drinks high in sugar primarily contribute to tooth decay in children. Sugars interact with bacteria in the mouth to produce acids that eradicate tooth enamel.
  • Frequency of Sugar Consumption: It’s not just the amount of sugar but the frequency of consumption that matters. Snacking on sugary foods or sweet drinks throughout the day exposes teeth to continuous acid attacks. Encourage structured meal and snack times rather than constant grazing.
  • Sticky and Chewy Foods: Sticky or chewy foods, like gummy candies or dried fruits, can cling to the teeth for longer periods. This prolonged exposure to sugars increases the risk of tooth decay. Limit these foods in your child’s diet.
  • Acidic Foods and Drinks: Things like citrus fruits and soft drinks can weaken tooth enamel.
  • Lack of Nutrient-Rich Foods: Having a diet that doesn’t include fundamental nutrients, particularly calcium and vitamin D, can weaken tooth enamel and increase susceptibility to decay.
  • Sugary Bedtime Snacks: Avoid giving sugary snacks or drinks close to bedtime. Saliva flow decreases during sleep, making it easier for acids to harm teeth. Stick to water as a bedtime drink.
  • Water Intake: Water is the best beverage for maintaining oral health. It helps rinse away food particles and sugars, promotes saliva production, and hydrates the body.
  • Using a Straw for Sugary Drinks: If your child occasionally enjoys sugary drinks, consider using a straw. Straws can help minimise direct contact between the sugary liquid and their teeth.
  • Promoting Healthy Snacks: Eat healthy snacks like fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, yogurt, and nuts. These options are nutritious and less likely to contribute to tooth decay.
  • Dental Check-ups: Regular dental check-ups are key to detecting signs of tooth decay and receiving guidance on dietary choices. Your dentist can provide personalised recommendations based on your child’s oral health.

Seeking Treatment



The right treatment helps your child get rid of the decay and fix up the tooth. The way we do it depends on how bad the decay is and how old your child is.

Here are common treatment options for tooth decay in children:

Dental Fillings

Dental fillings are the most prevalent treatment for tooth decay in children. Your professional dentist should remove the decayed part of your kid’s tooth and fill the cavity with adequate dental filling material, such as composite resin or amalgam. The choice of filling material depends on the child’s age, the location of the cavity, and parental preferences.

Pulpotomy or Pulpal Therapy

When tooth decay reaches the pulp (i.e., the innermost part of your child’s tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels), a pulpotomy or pulpal therapy may be performed, which involves removing the infected pulp tissue, disinfecting the area, and placing a medicated filling to preserve the remaining healthy pulp.


In severe cases where the tooth is extremely damaged and can’t be saved, extraction (removal) of the tooth may be necessary. The dentist will discuss options for tooth replacement if needed.

Fluoride Treatment

Fluoride is an effective mineral that can help prevent tooth decay and strengthen tooth enamel. Dentists may apply fluoride treatments to the child’s teeth to remineralise weak enamel and prevent further decay.

Dietary and Oral Hygiene Counseling

Dentists educate parents and children on proper oral hygiene practices, including brushing, flossing, and a balanced diet. Reducing sugary snacks and drinks can help prevent future cavities.

Monitoring and Follow-up

Kids-Tooth-Decay-checkupIf your child has had tooth trouble before, it’s important to keep those dental check-ups on the calendar. We want to catch any new cavities before they become a big deal and keep that smile shining bright.

At home, make sure your kid is brushing, flossing, and not going overboard on sweets and sugary drinks. Catching things early and taking preventive steps will keep your child’s smile in tip-top shape.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I safeguard my child from tooth decay from an early age?

Start oral care early, limit sugary foods, encourage healthy snacks, and schedule regular dental check-ups.

When should my child have their first dental visit?

Schedule your child’s first dental visit by their first birthday, as recommended by dental professionals.

Are baby teeth essential, considering they will eventually fall out?

Yes, baby teeth play a vital role in a child’s development and should be taken care of just like adult teeth.

What Do I do when my child is afraid of visiting the dentist?

Our friendly paediatric dentists are trained to work with children and create a positive, comfortable experience.

Next Steps: Protecting Your Child’s Teeth From Decay

When tooth decay is detected early, you can treat it with dental fillings or other restorative procedures. However, decay can advance if left untreated, leading to more severe issues like infections or tooth loss.

Remember, your child’s dental health impacts their wellness, speech, and confidence.

Following all the steps we mentioned here will ensure your child’s good dental health throughout their developmental years and into adulthood.

Feel free to contact us at Bright-On Bay Dental, Brighton-Le-Sands, NSW, and our team of professional dentists will help your little one set the right foundations for a lifetime of smiles!



Department of Health & Human Services. “Tooth Decay – Young Children.” Better Health Channel

Healthdirect Australia. “Tooth Decay.” Healthdirect, 21 June 2023

Mahboobi, Zeinab, et al. “Dietary Free Sugar and Dental Caries in Children: A Systematic Review on Longitudinal Studies.” National Library of Medicine, vol. 11, no. 3, 2020, pp. 271–80.

“Oral Health and Dental Care in Australia, Healthy Teeth.” Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 17 Mar. 2023

The State Of Queensland. “Oral Health for Babies and Toddlers (0-2 Years).” Health and Wellbeing | Queensland Government, 14 Apr. 2023

“Tooth Decay.” Raising Children Network, 1 July 2022

“Tooth Decay – Australian Dental Association.”