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Health Answers

Do cavities in baby teeth need filling?

Q. Do cavities in baby teeth need filling?

A. It’s tempting to overlook problems in children’s baby teeth since they fall out eventually — usually when a child is between 6 and 12 — making way for adult teeth to grow in. But keeping baby teeth healthy is important.

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Cavities are the result of tooth decay caused by plaque on the tooth surface. “Cavities in baby teeth spread quite quickly because the enamel is thinner,” says Elizabeth Ross, a pediatric dentist at Boston Children’s Hospital. If left untreated, the infection can damage other teeth and even invade the face and body.

Cavities in baby teeth can be repaired with fillings, which prevent an infection from causing pain, spreading, and requiring the removal of the tooth. Ross says that removing baby teeth prematurely can interfere with a child’s speaking and eating. Baby teeth also hold the place for future permanent teeth, so their loss can lead to future orthodontic problems.

Spotting cavities in young children can be difficult, but the first signs are sensitivity to cold and to eating hard foods, progressing to a constant toothache. The best way to avoid cavities in baby teeth is through prevention. Ross recommends seeing a dentist around age 1 to set up good habits and identify kids at risk of cavities. Primary risk factors for cavities in children are eating sweets, sipping a lot of juice, and grazing on foods throughout the day, all of which expose the teeth to carbohydrates that bacteria feed on.

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