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What do Cavities Look Like in Children

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Kid showing off teeth that has cavity in front of tooth

Dental health is essential for everyone, especially children, to protect their teeth from cavities. A cavity isn’t the end of the world, but it should receive treatment as soon as possible. If your child has a cavity, what will it look like? 

Continue reading to learn more about cavities, including what they look like in children and how to deal with them. 

What Are Cavities? 

Cavities (or tooth decay) are areas of damage on the surface of your teeth, causing tiny holes to develop. You can develop a cavity for several reasons, but poor dental hygiene is usually a significant cause. Tooth decay is a common problem for adults and children across the world. 

It’s easy to assume that a cavity is insignificant at first, but it can worsen with time until it causes pain and discomfort. The longer a cavity is left unaddressed, the worse it will get. 

Cavities damage the inner layers of the tooth as they continue to develop. Someone may experience toothache, infection, or even tooth loss due to a cavity. It’s important to understand the cause of cavities and what their symptoms are, especially when managing your child’s dental health. 

What Causes Cavities? 

Cavities develop when plaque forms on your teeth. A cavity doesn’t form immediately—it comes with time after plaque hardens into tartar. Eventually, this decay can penetrate the deeper layers of your tooth, causing further damage. 

Plaque is the clear film coating your teeth after eating sugars and starches. It develops when these materials stay in your mouth because you don’t brush your teeth effectively. Baked goods, soda, sweets, chocolate, sugary cereal, and jams are common culprits of tooth decay.

When these sugars and starches sit on your teeth after consumption, bacteria feed on them, creating plaque. You may notice white areas on your teeth where plaque develops. 

Plaque hardens near the gum line and becomes tartar when it sticks to your teeth for too long. Tartar makes plaque harder to remove, protecting bacteria and damaging your teeth. 

Cavities Form When Your Enamel Decays

Plaque begins to break your enamel, the protective outer layer of your tooth, with time. Your tooth’s surface may break with persistent decay, creating a small hole within the tooth. This is a cavity your dentist must fill. 

As cavities progress, bacteria drill further into your tooth until it reaches its centre. A neglected tooth may develop an abscess, putting your overall health at risk. 

With the damage cavities can cause to teeth, what signs should you watch out for in your child? 

What Do Cavities Look Like for Children? 

Cavity symptoms can depend on their progression. Common symptoms of a cavity include: 

  • Toothache
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Pain when biting
  • Pain when drinking or eating sweet, hot, or cold things
  • Holes in the teeth
  • Black, white, or brown stains

In children, you may notice white spots forming on their teeth. This formation is an early warning sign of tooth decay—with time, you may see brown or black staining as a cavity progresses. Your child may mention feeling pain or sensitivity to certain foods. 

It’s important to note that symptoms vary from person to person. Your child may not even know they have a cavity until your dentist finds one during an examination. If you notice any staining or discomfort when your child eats, taking them for an exam can help determine if they have a cavity. 

Cavity Treatments

If your child has a cavity, your dentist will address it using the appropriate treatment method. The chosen treatment typically depends on the cavity’s stage of development. When treating cavities, fluoride and fillings are common solutions. 

Fluoride Treatment

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in food and water. Your dentist uses fluoride to treat early forms of tooth decay. If a cavity is in early development, fluoride can help prevent further damage. 


Dentists use fillings when cavities progress past the initial stages. A filling replaces the decay caused by a cavity. Your dentist removes any decayed portions of the tooth before filling in the tooth with a chosen solution to regain strength and function. 

Fluoride and fillings can effectively address a cavity, but the best way to protect your child’s teeth is to prevent cavities from forming. 

Young boy at dentist office having dental exam

Preventing Cavities

The best way to protect your child’s teeth from cavities is to prevent their development. Teaching your child the right way to brush and floss their teeth can help create a life-long habit. 

There are several ways you can help your child prevent cavities

  • Check with your dentist when they can begin using fluoride toothpaste 
  • Have consistent dental cleanings every 6 months
  • Ensure your child brushes their teeth for 2 minutes twice a day
  • Help them floss once their teeth begin to touch—flossing should happen at least once a day

While brushing and flossing are the foundations for good oral health, don’t forget about regular dental visits. Your dentist is here to help you and your family enjoy healthy teeth. 

Contact your dentist if your child has signs of a cavity or they need a dental examination. 

Written by Fotini Molnar

Dr. Fotini Molnar started her dental experience working as a dental assistant in a co-op program during high school. She went on to complete her Bachelor of Science, majoring in biotechnology at York University and then obtained her Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree from the University of Toronto. Prior to her career in dentistry, Dr. Molnar researched neuroblastoma at Sick Kids Hospital.
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