Dental Cavities in Children – How Common Is It?

Dental Cavities in Children – How Common Is It?

Dental caries, also called cavities, is the most common infectious disease in children.  It is also the most common chronic disease in both children and adults.  As a parent you are not alone if you are shocked or in disbelief when told that your child has untreated tooth decay or cavities.  Most children have had a cavity and it is nothing to be ashamed of. The important thing is to treat that cavity and learn appropriate ways of preventing further decay.

Dental Caries is an Infectious Disease

Dental caries or cavities are caused by bacteria in the mouth that eat sugars and turn them into acid.  This acid dissolves the tooth structure creating holes or cavities.  When a child is born, their mouth does not have any of these bacteria.  However, the bacteria is introduced through contact with parents and the environment. Usually it is the mother and father that first “innoculate” or give this bacteria to their child. Therefore, the first step to preventing dental cavities in children is the parents taking care of their own teeth and mouths.

Dental Caries is a Chronic Disease

Dental caries is a chronic disease.  Once decay has formed, it does not just go away.  Even after a filling, the disease still remains, but the tooth is repaired with dental material. Treating the decay is important because it prevents cavities from getting worse.

How common is dental caries
Infographic on prevalence of dental caries in children

Facts about Dental Cavities in Children

How Common are Dental Cavities in Children?

  • Dental Caries is the most common chronic disease in both children and adults
  • Cavities are the most common infectious disease in children
  • Dental Cavities in Children is 5 times more common than asthma, 7 times more common than Hay Fever, and 20 times more common than diabetes
  • 60% of children have or have had cavities by the age of 5
  • One in five children have untreated tooth decay
  • In the US, children miss an estimated 51 million hours of school due to untreated tooth decay
  • Dental cavities in children is increasing and is reaching epidemic proportions in the US

Economic Impact of Dental Caries

  • Over 1.6 Billion dollars is spent each year in emergency rooms treating tooth pain and tooth decay
  • Untreated tooth decay can lead to life threatening infections
  • Severe dental caries in children requiring general anesthesia and hospital care can cost between $10,000 and $25,000 per child

Prevention of Dental Caries

  • Fluoride – fluoride helps remineralize and strengthen teeth against decay
  • Establish a Dental Home – children should see the dentist by the eruption of their first tooth or by 1 year of age
  • Limit juices and milk, especially at night. Most severe cases of tooth decay are from sleeping with a bottle or sippy cup
  • Hygiene – start brushing once the first tooth erupts and make sure that kids go to sleep with clean teeth

If you would like to read more about the facts, please see the AAPD’s “State of Little Teeth.”