Kids and Cavities: A Rising Trend

More than a quarter of children ages two to five suffer from tooth decay.


CAVITY CAUSES: Tooth decay begins with a group of germs called mutans streptococcus. The bacteria feed on sugar in the mouth and produce acid that eats away at the teeth by destroying calcium. The bacteria also create plaque, a yellowish film that builds up on teeth and contains more enamel-eroding acid. Once an area without calcium becomes big enough, the surface of the tooth collapses, and a cavity forms. (Source: Parents.com)

PASSED DOWN THROUGH PARENTS: Aside from sugary foods, poor hygiene, and unfluoridated water, dental caries (cavities) can actually be passed down through the family. Babies are born without these harmful bacteria in their mouth, and studies have proven that moms (rather than dads) usually infect their children before age 2. It can happen when parents transfer saliva into the child's mouth by eating from the same spoon as the baby, or sharing toothbrushes. Also, if the parent has had cavities themself, it increases the likelihood of passing the germs along. Once a child's mouth has become colonized with the bacteria, his baby and permanent teeth will be more prone to cavities that can cause pain and difficulty eating. (Source: Parents.com)

TYPICAL TREATMENT: There are multiple treatments for cavities. If decay is not extensive, the decayed portion of the tooth is removed by drilling and replaced with a filling made of silver alloy, gold, porcelain, or a composite resin. The American Dental Association (ADA), FDA, and other public health agencies continue to support the safety of this restorative material. Allergies to the restorative material are rare. If the tooth decay is extensive and there is limited tooth structure remaining, crowns will be used. If a crown is needed, the decayed or weakened area of the tooth is removed and repaired and a crown is fitted over the remainder of the tooth. Crowns are made from gold, porcelain, or porcelain fused to metal. If the decay causes the nerve or pulp of the tooth to die, the dentist performs a root canal. During a root canal, the center of the tooth (including the nerve, blood vessel, and tissue) is removed along with the decayed portions of the tooth. The roots are then filled with a sealing material. If necessary, a crown can be placed over the filled tooth. (Source: Medicine Net)

NEW TREATMENTS: There are several new cavity treatments undergoing development. One experimental technique uses fluorescent light to detect the development of cavities long before they can be detected by traditional x-rays or dental exams. If cavities can be detected early, the tooth decay process can be stopped or reversed most of the time. Researchers are also working on a "smart filling" to prevent further tooth decay by slowly releasing fluoride over time around fillings and in surrounding teeth. (Source: Medicine Net)

For More Information, Contact:
Mary Jane Gore
Sr. Media Relations Specialist
Duke Medicine News and Communications