Why Does My Child Have Cavities?

No parent wants their child to have cavities. When a dentist finds a cavity in their child’s tooth it’s not uncommon for most parents to feel sadness, frustration, deflation, remorse and even shame. Please understand these are all very normal feelings when first learning of such news. Luckily, despite the unhappy news, you are in the right place; We have the expertise to fix your child’s teeth with minimal stress and minimal or no discomfort. We also have the ability and passion to help your child avoid any future cavities.

So REALLY, why does my child have cavities? Well, the answer is both simple and complex. We can break down why some children are more prone to cavities than others into two major areas: Biological and Behavioral

BIOLOGY: Biology, in this discussion, is an umbrella term I use to describe a multitude of physical dental traits or oral features which are either passed down from our parents or acquired randomly. We do not have control over any of these physical traits and some may increase or decrease our cavity risk potentials. Although physical trends can be seen within family lines, each family member is biologically unique. Some biologic dental traits can be either protective or put us more at risk. Examples can include anatomy of teeth such as deep grooves or pits, orthodontic skeletal issues such as crowding or malalignment of teeth, saliva gland functionality such as flow rates, saliva consistency and constituents including mineral and antibody quantity and quality, and anatomical airway restrictions - large tonsils or adenoids which can contribute to mouth breathing. Random local anomalies also can happen during tooth development such as enamel hypoplasia which is a common localized malformation and weakness of dental enamel. Acquired biologic factors such as oral bacteria inoculation which is something that is acquired after birth, usually passed from mother and father, can play a huge role in cavity risk. There are other biological factors such as natural fluoride exposure and general nutrition deficiencies during development and many, many others.

BEHAVIORAL: Behavior is a term I use to describe areas in oral health which we have either direct or partial control. Simply put, this encompasses all human behaviors that can impact our oral health either positively or negatively. Oral hygiene routines (quality and quantity of brushing and flossing), dietary choices (quality and quantity of healthy vs. sugary foods), fluoride usage (toothpaste, rinses and water sources) and regular professional dental services are all behaviors within control by the individual or parent that directly affect a child’s cavity risk.

Lastly, psychological and physical stressors need to be factored in because they can and often do directly affect oral health. Outside stressors can influence biological factors or behavioral factors. These stressors can come from regular life stresses or unique family stresses such as moving to a new area or changing schools, parental acrimony, major health conditions or death of a family member.

So ok that is a lot of technical information but why does my child have cavities?

Well….. Unfortunately as stated above, we are not all biologically equal. Some of us need eye glasses. Some of us don’t. Some of us are born with diabetes. Most of us are not. Some individuals are born more susceptible to developing cardiovascular diseases, cancers or psychiatric disorders, others are not. Because cavities are the result of a disease process, some people are going to be more susceptible to cavity development over others due to their unique genetic and biological makeup.

Since there are many factors that we don’t have direct control over, sometimes you as a parent can do everything “right” regarding oral hygiene and dietary choices but biologically the deck is stacked against your child. Conversely, some other parents may do everything incorrectly but their child is just biologically lucky; all their biological factors line up to act as natural protection against developing cavities.

Don’t be demoralized or disheartened if your child has been diagnosed with cavities. First, be honest with yourself. Are you doing all the things you know you should be doing to avoid cavities? Are there areas in which you can improve in oral hygiene routines or diet choices? Can you implement more use of fluorides? Are you taking your child for regular dental visits?

Dr. Johnson and his team will assess your child’s susceptibility of developing cavities, look over the biological and behavioral reasons, give you recommendations and teach you how to best help your child avoid cavities. Something very important to remember when it comes to avoiding cavities in your children is that you don’t have to be perfect. All you need to do is find the balance point between protective and pathologic factors specific for your child. We are here to help you identify those factors and give you motivation along with practical, attainable solutions.

For more information on how we can help you and your children avoid cavities and other oral diseases, please see our CAMBRA page or speak with one of our team members.


Dr. Johnson