Is your child cursed with surprise cavities despite your best efforts to brush daily? As a pediatric dentist, I hear about this dilemma all the time, and it brings to mind an experience I had with my four-year-old son, Noah, while cleaning his room.
We were searching high and low for a missing shoe when I came upon a bag full of moldy store-bought rolls. Hoping to have a late night snack at his fingertips, my son had stashed them in a perfect hiding spot: under the bed. Unfortunately, he forgot all about them, which led to my startling discovery of rock hard bread covered in green fuzz a few weeks later.
You and I wouldn’t miss rotting snacks if our child left them out in plain sight on a dresser or in the middle of the floor, but we can sometimes be tricked by what looks clean at first glance.
Sometimes we do a similar quick check of our kids’ teeth, and as long as no chunks of food are visible, we assume they are good to go. Then we are surprised at a dental visit when the dentist reports that cavities were indeed lurking in some “under the bed” places.
This is so frustrating for kids and their parents…we are brushing their teeth! Why isn’t it working??
Let me share with you, from a dentist’s perspective, the two favorite hiding spots of cavities, so you can be sure your child’s daily brushing is really doing the job.
1. Cavities hide…Between the Teeth.
Two thirds of cavities in baby teeth form where two teeth meet (or, in dentist terms, “contact” each other). The really nasty thing about this location is that plaque sits there growing on not one but two teeth at the same time. If a hidden area like that goes uncleaned for months or more, you’re penalized with the double whammy…two teeth with cavities, side-by-side.
Think of it: If your kid has four uncleaned contacts at the back of his mouth, he will have cavities on every one of the eight molars—eight cavities!—no matter how well he brushed the top and sides of these teeth.
A toothbrush physically cannot reach between teeth to clean this spot, and for that reason, Floss is Boss.
I know, I know—it’s hard enough to brush! Few if any of us get to the second step of flossing our kids’ teeth because…well…the string, the small mouth, the fight, the discomfort, the tears…it makes it all a lost cause for parents.
But I would argue that it is just as important—if not more important—that kids floss than that they brush—at least those four spots in the back between the molars. Get a flosser or soft pick to make this more convenient for you and your child.
2. Cavities hide…In the Grooves.
Pits and fissures, the grooves, are the second most common place to get cavities. This is at the back of the mouth where teeth are grinding food and getting debris smashed into the cracks and crevices. I have two tips to protect these areas:
- Avoid sticky, processed snacks, like crackers. Most people immediately think of fruit snacks or candy, and those are bad–but, honestly, the worst culprits are crackers! (And Cheetohs are a pediatric dentist’s arch nemesis). These foods are much more likely to get stuck in grooves and fester. Save your money and stop buying these foods at the store–you’ll also save on your dental bill.
- Ask your dentist whether your child’s grooves are deep and likely to develop cavities over time. It may cost you extra and require a willing pediatric dentist, but these fissures can be sealed (just like is commonly done on all permanent molars) as soon as your child is cooperative, perhaps at age three or four. It could be a beneficial investment in susceptible teeth that won’t be falling out till age 11 or 12, especially if you struggle to eliminate the processed snacks.
If you’ve been shocked by a dentist reporting cavities on teeth that you are brushing regularly with your child, consider if these two common “under the bed” hiding spots are being overlooked at brushing time.
- Cavities hide out between the teeth. Floss is boss!
- Cavities fester in grooves. Consider sealants!
- Cavities thrive on sticky, processed snacks. Eliminate them from your child’s diet whenever you can!
Ever since my discovery of Noah’s fuzzy green rolls under the bed, I’m much more likely to get down on my knees and peek under there every once in a while.
Now that you know where plaque is most likely to hide out in your kids’ mouths (in between and on top of the molars), you can target those two key spot every night, and your family will be on the way to far fewer surprise cavities.
Tooth Training Challenge for This Week: If you aren’t already flossing your kids’ teeth, try it this week! Don’t give up if it is challenging at first–it will get easier with time.