The occurrence of cavities in babies and toddlers is quite common. One of the most important reasons for cavities is tooth decay. Cavities can develop in a child's primary teeth or baby teeth and should never be ignored. They need to be tackled early for healthy teeth and gums and ignorance may make your child eventually lose a tooth to a cavity. This article explains everything in detail about cavities in kids – the causes, symptoms, prevention, and most importantly, how to treat cavities in baby teeth.

Remember, Dental treatment is not costly, only neglect is costly!

Do check out the NewMumLife team’s detailed discussion with Dr. Nilesh Joshi on Kids oral care and hygiene.

Reasons for Cavities in Baby Teeth

One of the most important reasons for cavities is tooth decay in kids. Tooth decay occurs due to the build-up of dental plaque. Plaque is a sticky substance that covers the teeth and is a result of the accumulation of bacteria in a child’s mouth. This increases the acid levels and eventually, erodes the tooth enamel. There are several reasons for tooth decay in children. These include:

  1. Diet is a major culprit for oral cavities. Consumption of foods that are high in sugar or even starch (such as ice cream, cakes, candies, crackers, chips, etc.) poses a higher risk for tooth decay as sugar creates an environment for bacterial growth in children
  2. Improper brushing and flossing and not maintaining good oral hygiene or not brushing the teeth regularly
  3. It is also said that some people are genetically susceptible to cavities due to a softer enamel
  4. Drinking water that has low or no fluoride content as fluoride is considered extremely important for strengthening tooth enamel

Symptoms of Cavities in Baby Teeth

As a parent, you must be aware of the signs and symptoms of cavities as this will allow you to seek timely treatment and avoid further damage to the teeth. There are several visual symptoms that you should look out for. These include:

  1. White spots or dark spots on teeth are the earliest symptoms that a child has a cavity
  2. Initially, the cavity is light brown and as it develops, it turns to a deeper shade
  3. A child may experience pain in the area around the affected tooth
  4. Getting sensitive to hot, cold, and sweet foods are also observed
  5. If a child is crying, getting fussy, or is lethargic
  6. A child may avoid eating due to the pain associated, although, a cavity doesn't always cause pain
  7. Swelling of the mouth may also be observed
  8. Persistent bad breath that does not improve with brushing
  9. Visible holes, dark spots, or discoloration

As soon as you observe any of these signs or symptoms, it's time for you to make an appointment of your child with the doctor.

How to Treat Cavities in Baby Teeth?

Treatment of cavities in a baby's teeth depends on the child’s symptoms, age, cooperation, general health, and how severe the condition is.

Some children may require general anesthesia or light sedation for the treatment. Generally, these are recommended when a child is very young, has multiple cavities, or has trouble staying still. Nitrous oxide, commonly known as “laughing gas,” is used for light sedation during the procedure and to make the procedure comfortable.

There are two types of treatment options – non-invasive and invasive.

Non-invasive Treatments

Non-invasive treatments are those that do not require any incision or removal of tissue. These include fillings, also called restorations and crowns.

1. Dental Fillings

Dental fillings are the most common treatment options that can take place on both baby teeth as well as permanent teeth. These are made of composite resin and provide for a tooth-colored restoration. The procedure involves removing the decay completely from the tooth and filling the small hole that was created with the composite material or sometimes metal. This ends the decay and protects the kids’ teeth from further damage. Dentists do perform fillings on children as young as 1 or 2 years.


  • Affordable
  • Protects from future cavities
  • Lasts long


  • Can cause teeth discoloration
  • May increase teeth sensitivity
  • Weakens the teeth
  • Teeth may get stained

2. Dental Crowns

In rare and severe cases, your dentist may recommend a dental crown. This protects the teeth from further damage and keeps the entire bite operational. A crown is a cap for the affected tooth. It is made from a variety of materials, including metal or porcelain, and is fitted directly over an existing tooth.


  • Improve the appearance of the teeth (mild discoloration and alignment issues)
  • Reshape the teeth
  • Protects teeth after a root canal


  • May sometimes become chipped
  • Increased sensitivity to cold and hot temperatures 
  • The dental cement used to hold the crown in place may wash away with time

Invasive Treatments

Invasive dental procedures are those that involve manipulation of the gums or perforation of the oral mucosa. These include tooth extraction and pulpotomy.

1. Tooth Extraction

Tooth extraction is generally recommended in case of severe tooth decay and no other treatment option is available to save the tooth. However, early tooth extractions may result in problems related to chewing and eating as well as other orthodontic issues at a later stage. In case of a tooth extraction, the dentist will keep the gap open with a space maintainer to help the permanent teeth to grow properly.


  • Cost-effective
  • Prevents future problems


  • Pit formation
  • Effect on surrounding teeth

2. Pulpectomy or Root Canal Treatment

Pulpectomy involves complete removal of inner pulp tissue so that tooth becomes non-vital and insensitive to hot and cold. This is the latest resort to save the tooth as it is the only procedure alternative to tooth extraction. It is especially indicated in:

  • Pain especially during night time or sleeping
  • Swelling over face due to decayed tooth
  • Bleeding from tooth (pulp polyp)


  • Leaves the roots of a tooth intact
  • Allows the continuation of normal development of the tooth


  • Teeth that receive pulpotomy likely require a crown (cap) to be placed on the tooth

How to Prevent Cavities in Baby Teeth?

We all know that prevention is better than cure. Hence, the best way to treat cavities is to avoid them happening in the first place.

1. Follow a routine for proper oral hygiene

Try and brush the teeth twice daily at least for two minutes. Kids are unable to brush properly by themselves until they are at least 6 years old. Hence, an adult should brush a child’s teeth or supervise their brushing until they are old enough to do it thoroughly.

2. Start with early brushing

It is normally said that you should start with oral hygiene as soon as the first tooth erupts. Hence, as soon as you see the first tooth, it's time for you to start the dental care for your kid. Start with wiping their gums with a soft cloth after each feeding.

3. Use kid-friendly fluoridated toothpaste

Introduce your child to the fluoridated toothpaste as soon as he/she turns 2 years old and brush their teeth twice a day regularly with a pea-size amount of this toothpaste.

4. Avoid bottle-feeding during the night

Tooth decay from the use of baby bottles, especially if they are used at bedtime, is quite common. You should certainly not offer your child a bottle at bedtime.

5. Brush after consumption of sugary and starchy foods

Which child doesn't like sugars? However, a parent must limit the exposure to sugars. Brush your child's teeth after he/she consumes a sugary snack. This will limit the growth of bacteria, and hence, protecting tooth enamel.

6. Go for a regular dental check-up

It is always better to schedule your child’s first dental appointment as soon as the first tooth erupts or on the first birthday. Later, go for regular dental check-ups every 6 months to prevent tooth decay altogether.

7. Flossing is important

Children who don’t floss their teeth or floss incorrectly are at a higher risk for developing cavities. Flossing helps remove food particles between teeth. A parent should help a child floss their teeth regularly and in a proper manner.

8. Offer healthier alternatives to satisfy sugar cravings

If your child has a sweet tooth, you should try to offer as many healthier alternatives as possible to ice cream, candies, cookies, or cakes. You can offer frozen bananas, granola bars, yogurts, cheese sticks, unsweetened fruit dips, dried fruits, or low glycemic fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

While cavities are common in babies and toddlers, they can be prevented. All you need to do is to maintain good oral hygiene to keep your child's teeth healthy and glowing. In addition, less sugar and regular dental check-ups are also going to keep any types of dental problems at bay.

This article lists down the causes, symptoms, and measures to prevent the cavities altogether. It also details out the procedures on how to treat cavities in baby teeth. We hope the information will serve your purpose and help you to maintain your kid’s oral hygiene.

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About The Author

Dr. Nilesh Jagdish Joshi

Dr. Nilesh Jagdish Joshi has done done MDS from PGIMER, Chandigarh. He is involved in private dental practice since 2011 and at present, practicing at Akola, Maharashtra. He is also doing solely Pediatric Dentistry (only specialty practice) practice at one of the centers from 2015. He has also worked as senior lecturer.

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