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Go Ask Mom

Duke Medicine: Cavities in children

Posted May 2, 2011 8:45 p.m. EDT

If your child eats a lot of sticky foods, she may be at risk for cavities between the teeth. Dr. Martha Ann Keels, a pediatric dentist at Duke Children’s, explains why these foods often cause cavities in children and how to prevent them.

Have you ever used a toothpick or your fingernail to remove food from between your teeth? Many children do not develop the sensation of something being caught between their teeth until they are grooming to go out on a date. That can lead to problems with cavities between teeth, especially if the child frequently eats sticky foods.

Unfortunately, many parents start their children’s day with a gooey breakfast bar and gummy vitamins. Both items are very cariogenic (cavity causing) and sticky. These foods collect on top of and between the molars (the teeth in the back of the mouth that they chew with).

The sticky food serves as a carbohydrate source for cariogenic bacteria, which in turn process the sugars into lactic acid via glycolysis. It is the lactic acid that breaks down the enamel of the teeth, resulting in cavities.

Many people do not realize the risk of having foods caught between their teeth, which can result in several interproximal (in between the teeth) cavities. Cavities require local or general anesthesia and fillings to repair, which will prevent a future significant infection in the jaw.

Dentists cannot detect this type of tooth decay without radiographs. Tooth brushing alone cannot prevent these types of cavities.

For more on how tooth decay begins and how it can be prevented (including why ice cream and M&Ms are a better occasional sweet than fruit snacks), read the full article on