Dental Caries & Prevention

Dental Decay

Dental decay is a disease of the dental hard tissue (enamel / dentine) caused by early infection with the bacteria Streptococcus mutans and modified by diet and inappropriate feeding practices. Saliva plays an important role in decay as it neutralises bacterial acid that causes decay as well as serving other important functions. Other factors exist which may predispose to decay, some of which include medications taken in early childhood, medical conditions, inappropriate use of the bottle containing sugary substances, dental crowding, enamel defects (hypoplasia) and developmental impairments.


Sugars provide the food for bacteria that causes dental decay. Sugars are converted to "acid" by bacteria which in turn dissolves tooth structure. There are simple sugars, which are the preferred food for bacteria such as those found in sweets, soft drinks, fruit juices etc... Complex sugars or starchy foods also contain sugar but are harder for bacteria to break down which means they offer far less risk of dental decay. Examples are rice, pasta, cereal, grains, nuts, potato etc...

Safe Snacking

Children's eating patterns are often erratic, that is, they occur at a whim and can be described as a "grazing" pattern of eating that does not coincide with main meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and involves many smaller meals throughout the child's day. Every meal, including snacks, is equal to an "acid attack" on teeth. The more snacks, the more frequent the acid attacks, the higher the acidity in the mouth and therefore the greater chance of decay. It is therefore no surprise why children can suffer dental decay.

Children generally have not yet developed proper muscle function and coordination to allow them to chew food properly and this means food sticks to the teeth and inside the mouth for prolonged periods of time. Snack times are often times on the run, when they are not concentrating eating and too busy doing other things or are easily distracted, such as playing. As there is little chewing, so too there is little saliva produced to protect against decay. All in all, snack times are perfect opportunities for decay.

Tooth Brushing

Tooth brushing removes plaque (bacteria) and food debris including stains from the tooth surface, as well as delivering valuable fluoride to the enamel surfaces, an important aspect in the prevention of decay.

Tooth brushing is a highly purposeful, coordinated effort and as such should be performed by a parent or carer morning and night. Children below the age of 10 years generally cannot brush their teeth competently and so an adult should supervise tooth brushing and brush the teeth for younger children so ensure the task is performed properly. When a child can write their name or tie shoelaces they are generally able to use a tooth brush, however a parent must always immediately follow them to complete the task. Manual (non-electric) tooth brushes are an excellent method of developing hand-eye coordination and teach your child how to brush. Electric tooth brushes are also great tools but ought to be used with caution and always under adult supervision.