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Children's Risk for Dental Caries

Most oral health conditions are preventable and can be treated during earlier stages. Dental caries, also known as tooth decay or cavities, are a common oral condition. A worldwide estimate of 2 billion individuals experience cavities in their permanent teeth, and 520 million children experience cavities in their primary teeth [1]. “Dental caries result when plaque forms on the surface of a tooth and converts the free sugars […] contained in foods and drinks into acids that destroy the tooth over time. A continued high intake of free sugars, inadequate exposure to fluoride and a lack of removal of plaque by toothbrushing can lead to caries, pain and sometimes tooth loss and infection,” [1]. These free sugars, or added sugars, in what we consume can have a detrimental effect on oral health if they are paired with bad or inconsistent oral hygiene. Tooth decay may take a few years to develop before affecting the outer layer of teeth, but it can, more quickly, affect the middle and inner layers [2].

Symptoms of dental caries can be uncomfortable and even painful if they progress enough. Symptoms like tooth sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures can make it difficult to eat for many individuals who suffer from this condition. “More than half of adolescents aged 12 to 19 have had a cavity in at least one of their permanent teeth,” and “children aged 5 to 19 years from low-income families are twice as likely […] to have cavities, compared with children from higher-income households,” [3]. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Untreated cavities can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t,” [3]. So, it is clear that dental caries not only have negative effects on people of all ages who experience them, but specifically on lower-income, school-aged children due to the consequences this oral condition can have on their overall development.

Luckily, there are ways to prevent dental caries and support better oral hygiene at home. Fluoride is a key component in preventing cavities and bettering oral hygiene. According to the CDC, “children who brush daily with fluoride toothpaste will have fewer cavities,” [3]. Fluoride toothpastes are accessible at retail stores and can be relatively inexpensive compared to paying for a dental check-up if your insurance does not cover it. For just a few dollars per tube, you can get fluoride toothpaste for your children and help them brush twice daily to encourage good oral hygiene at home. Brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste is a convenient, at-home solution to help prevent your children from developing painful cavities.

If your insurance does cover regular dental check-ups for you or your children, it would be wise to make the encouraged appointment with your dentist every 6 months so they can apply a fluoride varnish on your children’s teeth which will significantly lessen the chances of your children developing dental caries.

Lastly, a more focused diet can help your children prevent cavities from forming. As stated previously, consuming a lot of added sugars in foods can lead to tooth decay without proper oral hygiene. Limiting your children’s intake of these added sugars can help lessen their chances of getting cavities, especially if paired with a consistent toothbrushing routine. Try finding some snacks with no added sugars, or try buying more whole food snacks- like fruits- to satisfy your child’s sweet-tooth without falling victim to a high number of added sugars. It is totally okay to let your children enjoy foods and drinks with added sugars every so often, but make sure to teach them to brush their teeth thoroughly after consuming anything with added sugars.

With all of these different preventative measures, parents of any income level can help teach and encourage their children to engage in better oral hygiene habits to lower their chances of developing dental caries.


1. World Health Organization. (2022, March 15). Oral Health. World Health Organization.

2. Cavities: Tooth decay, toothache, causes, prevention & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. (2020, September 14).



Authors: Lauryn Agron and Emilia Ohia

Editor: Lauryn Agron and Terin Buckley

Health scientists: Joanna Gudino and Emilia Ohia

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