Cavities in young children can be frustrating, especially when they do not know how to deal with the condition themselves.

Generally, early childhood caries are caused by frequent nursing or bottle-feeding from a bottle. That causes the milk to stay in the mouth longer than usual, which provides a fertile environment for certain types of bacteria to grow.

A child’s mouth is full of bacteria, but in a healthy mouth, the right mix of bacteria balances each other out and prevents cavities. When milk stays in the child’s mouth, the wrong types of bacteria may flourish, and cariogenic bacteria may spread.

If you think that you’re doing your best to take good care of your children’s teeth, there is so much more you need to know.

Why Do Children and Babies Get Cavities?

Through Sugar

In both children and adults, cavities on the chewing surfaces of teeth are usually caused by a diet high in sugar, especially refined sugar. However, some children have a genetic tendency toward early childhood caries, even when their diets are good.

Tooth decay can happen at any age, but it often strikes in childhood. The bacteria that cause tooth decay, including Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus sobrinus, and Lactobacillus, can live in many places, including the mouth and digestive tract. They thrive in a person’s mouth, especially when there’s a build-up of sugars and carbohydrates.

These bacteria change the tooth surface through demineralization, making it easier for them to stick to the tooth.

When brushing and flossing aren’t enough to remove these food particles, they settle on the teeth, and the bacteria start working. Lactobacillus and Streptococcus species metabolize sugars, producing lactic acid, which dissolves the hard outer layer of the teeth (called enamel). The bacteria also produce toxic waste products that kill and damage healthy cells.

The acids produced by bacteria in children with early childhood caries are much stronger than in adults. These substances can also kill and damage more healthy cells and dissolve more enamel.

More than just being painful, tooth decay in children can cause life-long health problems. It can cause the child’s tooth to be more likely to fracture and break, leading to further tooth decay and issues with moving the teeth.

Through Frequent Snacking

Frequent snacking is liable to cause weight gain and cavities. Sugars from the snack are at work, both in the mouth and the digestive tract, feeding bacteria that cause cavities.

Through Sleep Apnea

If your child has sleep apnea, their risk of tooth decay and cavities increases. That is because when the child is sleeping, their airway is blocked, and they are not breathing normally. Because of this, they are not swallowing fluids to cleanse their teeth. 

Without swallowing the fluids, the soft food left in their mouth from the previous meal or snack is left to rot. Rotting food provides a perfect environment for cavities to form.

Through Genetics

Some children may be more prone to tooth decay because of their genetic makeup. Children born early and needing breathing assistance might be at greater risk. Children born with a cleft lip or palate, who may have had surgical repairs in the mouth before the eruption of their first permanent teeth, are also at greater risk.

Through Poor Oral Hygiene

Poor oral hygiene, such as infrequent brushing and flossing, will increase your child’s chance of tooth decay and cavities. During the day, when a child is snacking, the food in their mouth continues to break down, providing a perfect environment for the acids from the bacteria to cause cavities to form.


Dental enamel defects in children are not just unsightly; they can affect a child’s health and well-being. It’s a critical time in your child’s development that you can’t afford to ignore. Many times, dental cavities can be associated with other health problems. Some infections, such as rotavirus, can infect the mouth’s soft tissue and infect the tooth’s roots. That can sometimes lead to dental cavities. 

Pike District Smiles offers a wide range of dental services for the whole family, including checkups, kids’ dentistry, root canals, periodontal care, dental implants, and more. If you need a dentist at Rockville Pike, contact us to request an appointment.