Top 10 Common Dental Problems In Children, Signs & Treatment

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Children may experience several types of dental problems, which may lead to lasting complications. A dental problem in children may lead to other issues, too, such as interference with daily activities and poor academic performance (1). Most dental problems can be avoided or detected early with the help of regular dental checkups. Good oral hygiene and dental care can prevent or minimize the risks of several dental problems in children

Read this post to know the symptoms and treatment of various dental problems in children.

Common Dental Problems In Children

Some common dental problems in children are as follows.

1. Dental decay

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dental caries are one of the most common chronic diseases during childhood. Tooth decay is the breakdown or destruction of the tooth’s hard outer layer called enamel. This causes cavities in the milk or permanent teeth which may or may not accompany with pain. According to the CDC, around 20% of children between five and 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth, and children from low-income families are twice as likely to have cavities than those from high-income ones (2).

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of tooth decay are different in each child. However, the following are some common symptoms of dental decay (3).

  • Early white spots on the affected areas of the tooth.
  • Later on, brownish or blackish discoloration of the tooth.
  • Sensitivity to sweets, cold and hot food, and beverages.
  • Moderate to severe pain on the affected tooth.
  • Abscess or swelling on the face.

Treatment

The treatment for dental decay depends on the child’s symptoms, age, overall health, child’s cooperative abilities, and the severity of the condition.

It involves removing the decayed part of the tooth and replacing it with a filling material called restorations. If a large part is broken, crowns may be required. The dentist may take a dental X-ray to check the extent of the dental decay (3). It’s best to bring children early to a pediatric dentist for preventive approaches like fluoride varnish, sealants and other preventive strategies.

2. Sensitive teeth

Sensitive teeth are characterized by a mild twinge to severe discomfort and may last for a few minutes to several hours. Sensitivity mostly may be the first sign of decay reaching the nerves of the teeth and should be considered a warning sign. Overly vigorous brushing can also cause enamel erosion, and it may increase sensitivity. A cracked tooth or tooth filling can also cause sensitive teeth. Excessive plaque accumulation can cause the gums to recede and lead to sensitivity of teeth (4).

Signs and symptoms

  • Acute sensitivity or discomfort after eating or drinking something cold.
  • Occasional sensitivity or pain while brushing or flossing (5).

Treatment

The type of treatment depends on the cause of sensitivity (5).

  • Desensitizing toothpaste blocks the nerve endings in the teeth and helps in reducing tooth sensitivity.
  • Fluoride application strengthens the enamel and reduces the transmission of sensations in the tooth.
  • A crown or inlay can be useful in reducing the tooth’s sensitivity.
  • Root canal treatment is suggested as the last resort if none of the other treatments work for sensitive teeth.
  • Timely and periodic visits to the dentist can minimize or eliminate any possible sensitivity.

3. Gum diseases

Gum diseases are serious bacterial infections that cause the destruction of the gums and the surrounding tissues in the mouth. Majorly, plaque deposition containingbacteria are responsible for gum diseases in children (6), which happen due to inadequate oral hygiene practices at home.

Signs and symptoms (6)

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Bleeding while brushing teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Pus between teeth

Treatment

Dental cleaning, tartar, and plaque removal from the surface of the teeth, between the teeth, and under the gums help in restoring gum health. Flossing between the teeth, regular rinsing after meals and kid-friendly mouthwash can help in reducing the bacterial load in the oral cavity (6).

4. Halitosis

It is normal for children to have a foul smell coming from their mouths when they wake up in the morning if they didn’t have brushing before sleeping. However, persisting bad breath can lead to tooth decay, dental abscess, gum diseases, sinusitis, blocked nose, mouth and throat infections, snoring, mouth breathing, etc. (7).

Signs and symptoms

  • Oral odor
  • Unpleasant or sour taste in the mouth
  • Dryness of the mouth
  • Whitish discoloration of the tongue
  • Bleeding from the gums while brushing

Treatment

Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth twice a day in the right areas, flossing the teeth regularly, and cleaning the tongue well. Antibacterial mouthwash can also help in reducing the foul smell from the mouth. Ample hydration and cutting down on sugary drinks can also help in reducing the foul smell. If it still persists, visit a dentist for further evaluation.

5. Dental abscess

An abscess is a fluid-filled area at the site of infection. Bacteria in the teeth cause dental abscesses. Fractured untreated decayed teeth lead to a dental abscess (8).

Signs and symptoms

  • Sharp or throbbing pain
  • Sensitivity to heat, cold, or pressure.
  • Fever
  • Swelling in the neck or the jaw
  • Bad breath
  • Bitter taste in the mouth

Treatment

Appropriate antibiotics are the first line of treatment against dental abscesses. Some children may need a root canal to save their tooth or worst case scenario, the tooth needs to be extracted.

6. Grinding/ Clenching

Most children make loud grating sounds while grinding their teeth during the night. Called bruxism, around six to 50% of children engage in it during early childhood (9). This condition is common in toddlers and preschoolers and leaves by two to three years. However, the problem may persist in some children in adolescence or even adulthood (10).

Stress, anxiety, ADHD, migraines, sleep-related breathing disorders, misaligned teeth, etc., may be the causes of grinding.

Signs and symptoms

  • Tooth damage (wear and tear, fractures, receding gums)
  • Sensitivity of teeth
  • Jaw pain
  • Headaches
  • Grinding sounds (9)

Treatment

The following are the treatment options for grinding in children (9).

  • Managing stress and anxiety can help reduce teeth grinding.
  • Bruxism is closely related to sleep quality. Therefore, a healthy bedtime routine can help the child sleep better.
  • Check if your child is keeping their mouth open while sleeping, there is saliva drooling on the pillow in the morning apart from grinding. This means that your child is mouth breathing and needs re-education and training from function-based pediatric dentist or oromyofunctional therapist.

7. Over-retained primary teeth

This milk tooth remains in place when the permanent tooth is already visible and erupting.

Signs and symptoms

  • It appears as a tip of the permanent tooth in the gum when the milk tooth is fixed or slightly mobile.
  • More common in the lower front tooth region.
  • The permanent tooth grows on the inner side of the jaw (towards the tongue or the palate) in most cases.

Treatment

The pediatric dentist will extract the milk tooth to create space for the permanent tooth to develop. As their jaws grow in size and expand in width, some children have more space for the permanent tooth to align with the other teeth without any medical intervention (11). But it can also be a clear indication of space discrepancy and should be evaluated further for inadequately developing jaws due to functional issues.

8. Premature tooth loss

Premature loss of milky teeth is associated with misalignment of permanent teeth. This may reduce the space in the jaw for the succeeding permanent tooth. It leads to crowding, rotation, and impaction of permanent teeth (12).

Treatment

The pediatric dentist may use a device known as a space maintainer to hold and save space for the permanent tooth to erupt (13). This significantly reduces future orthodontic treatment needs.

9. Malocclusion

Malocclusion is when a child’s teeth are crooked or crowded. In this condition, the upper jaw teeth do not normally meet with the lower jaw. This can happen due to injury to the jaws, genetic factors, environmental reasons, mouth breathing or thumb sucking (14).

Signs and symptoms

Children with malocclusion may have one of these bite problems (14).

  • Overbite: The front teeth of the upper jaw extend over or beyond the lower jaw teeth.
  • Underbite: The front teeth of the lower jaw extend over or beyond the upper jaw teeth.
  • Open bite: The upper and lower front teeth do not meet when the jaw is closed.
  • Crossbite: The teeth on the top sit behind the bottom teeth when the mouth is closed.

Treatment

The goal of the treatment for malocclusion is to align the teeth, correct the bite, and improve the esthetics. The treatment may include tooth removal, jaw surgery, mouth appliances, or orthodontic treatment. (14). Early intervention by checking with a pediatric dentist can minimize this.

10. Dental emergencies

Dental accidents/trauma are common in children of all age groups. The accidents may happen when children play contact sports like basketball, soccer, baseball, fight with siblings, fall while riding a bicycle, etc. These accidents can result in chipping, breaking, fracturing, or avulsion of the tooth.

Signs and symptoms

The following signs after a sudden blow or injury can indicate a dental accident.

  • Fractured, mobile, or chipped tooth.
  • Cut on a lip.
  • Bleeding from the tongue.
  • Bleeding from anywhere in the mouth.

Treatment

If the child’s permanent tooth falls off during an accident, ensure moistening the tooth by placing it in a container with milk, saline, coconut water, or a tooth preservation product with American Dental Association (ADA) seal. It will help in keeping the tooth viable. Go to the nearby dentist as soon as possible. If your child loses a temporary tooth, getting the tooth to the dentist is preferable.

If the child’s tongue or lip is injured, apply cold compresses. If you suspect a jaw fracture, try to explain to the child not to move their jaw, apply cold compresses, and take them to the emergency room of the nearest hospital as soon as possible (15).

Regular dental checkups, dental hygiene maintenance, and avoiding habits such as using teeth to open bottles or using a mouth guard while participating in recreational sports can help prevent dental problems. If your child complains of any pain or unusual sensation in their teeth, do not delay their dental appointments. Prophylactic and preventive dental care can help children have healthy and long-lasting teeth.

Key Pointers

  • One of the most common chronic diseases in children is dental caries.
  • Gum disease in children is primarily caused by plaque deposition containing bacteria due to poor oral hygiene practices.
  • Around 6 to 50% of children, particularly toddlers and preschoolers, grind or clench their teeth, a condition known as bruxism.
  • Scroll down for more dental conditions in children, including premature teeth loss, halitosis, and dental abscess.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Oral Health Fast Facts.
    https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/fast-facts/index.html
  2. Children\’s Oral Health.
    https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/childrens-oral-health/index.html
  3. Tooth Decay in Children.
    https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=90&ContentID=P01848
  4. Sensitive teeth.
    https://www.dentalhealth.org/sensitive-teeth
  5. Sensitive Teeth.
    https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/sensitive-teeth
  6. Periodontal Disease.
    https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/periodontal-disease
  7. Mohammad Karimi; (2017); The Causes of Holitosis in Children.
    https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/the-causes-of-holitosis-in-children.php?aid=86743
  8. Dental Abscess (Child).
    https://www.fairview.org/Patient-Education/Articles/English/d/e/n/t/a/Dental_Abscess_Child_511921en
  9. Teeth Grinding in Children.
    https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bruxism/teeth-grinding-children
  10. Teeth Grinding in Children.
    https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/oral-health/Pages/Teeth-Grinding-in-Children.aspx
  11. OVER RETAINED MILK TEETH.
    https://www.gerties.org/conditions/over-retained-milk-teeth/
  12. S. Syed Shaheed Ahamed, et al; (2012); Prevalence of early loss of primary teeth in 5–10-year-old school children in Chidambaram town.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341755/
  13. Space Maintainers.
    https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/space-maintainers
  14. Malocclusion in Children.
    https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=90&contentid=P01860
  15. Dental Emergencies: What Parents Need To Know.
    https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/injuries-emergencies/Pages/Dental-Emergencies.aspx
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Dr. Sanchit Paul

(MDS)
Dr. Sanchit Paul did his post-graduation in Pediatric and Preventive Dentistry during 2010-13. In 2013, he attended the mini-residency program at Children’s Dental Centre, Seoul, South Korea. After working for a few years, he completed the one-year accredited Pediatric Dentistry fellowship for special children and children with craniofacial anomalies in SickKids Hospital in Toronto, Canada. Subsequently, he did M2RP from... more

Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. She also holds a certificate in lactation counselling from iNational Health... more

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