As a parent, one of your responsibilities is to keep your child healthy and strong. Part of this responsibility includes taking care of your child’s oral health. 

Even if your child still has their baby teeth, their oral health is important if you want them to grow up into healthy adults with movie star smiles. To protect them, you need to know how to spot signs of tooth decay.

Tooth decay is what causes cavities. Catching cavities early will prevent the need for procedures like extractions and root canals.

We’re here to help you protect your child’s teeth. Keep reading to learn all about the signs of tooth decay in children. 

Stains or Spots

It’s normal for your child’s teeth to not be pearly white. Natural teeth are an off-white color that can vary from person to person. That said, if a tooth seems to be a color that doesn’t match the rest of the teeth, this is a sign of tooth decay (or worse: a dead tooth). 

While it might seem overbearing, don’t be afraid to take a peek into your child’s mouth every now and again. If they’re young enough to need your supervision for their oral hygiene, take a look at their teeth with a flashlight before they go to bed at night.

If you see a strange color, keep an eye on it to see if it’s still there several days later. It’s possible that it’s a temporary stain from food.

Stains that indicate cavities can be brown, gray, or even white. They may be visible on the front surface of the tooth, but you’re more likely to see them when looking at the top (or bottom) of each tooth. 

Chips, Holes, and Cracks

Have you noticed that your child’s tooth has a hole, a crack, or even a small chip?

This is an obvious sign that something is wrong. Regardless of whether or not the problem is a cavity, any kind of tooth trauma should tell you that it’s time for a visit to your local pediatric dentist. 

Holes are indicators of cavities. They mean that decay has eaten through the surface of the tooth to get to the inside. By the time a hole becomes obvious, it’s likely that the cavity is severe. 

You won’t always be able to see holes. Sometimes they’re small enough that only a dentist will spot them (even on the surface), and sometimes they hide between the teeth. This is why it’s so important to take your child to their regular dental appointments.

Cracks and chips don’t indicate tooth decay necessarily, but they can lead to tooth decay because they create a cavity for bacteria to enter. If your child damages a tooth while eating, playing sports, or even for no reason at all, take them to a dentist to prevent tooth decay. 

Bleeding Gums

This one is tricky. Bleeding gums aren’t an indication of tooth decay on their own. They’re a sign of gum disease

That said, with gum disease comes tooth decay. It stands to reason that, if you see bleeding or inflamed gums, there’s a pesky tooth causing the problem. 

Your child may mention this to you. It’s common for children to be afraid when they see blood in the sink or on their toothbrushes. They may tell you that they don’t want to floss or brush because “it hurts.”

This may be a situation in which the child is exaggerating or trying to get out of their oral hygiene routine, but it’s better to take the child to the dentist just in case. 

Food-Specific Sensitivity

If you don’t watch your child while they’re brushing their teeth, or take the time to observe their teeth with a flashlight, you might miss some signs of cavities. Children excel at hiding things from their parents. If hiding a cavity means that they don’t have to go to the dentist, they’re going to do it. 

Pay attention to your child while they eat. Cavities in children often become apparent when the child is eating sweet or hard foods. Those foods will trigger sensitivity in the problematic tooth. 

If your child has started to decline candy or their favorite crunchy and chewy snacks, or even foods like apples, it’s time to talk to them about going to the dentist. 

Hot and Cold Sensitivity 

Not everyone feels pain or sensitivity when they eat sweet or crunchy foods, even if they have a cavity. Many people never realize that they have a cavity until it’s serious.

One sign of tooth decay that’s common even among people who don’t feel that telltale pain is sensitivity to temperatures. Most of the time, people with cavities are more sensitive to cold than to heat, but it’s possible to have sensitivity to all extreme temperatures. 

Does your child get uncomfortable when they drink cold water or eat ice cream? This is one of the signs your child has a cavity.


This is the easiest way to determine whether or not your child has tooth decay. By the time pain occurs, it’s likely that the cavity is significant. Children may not notice the other signs, and if you’re not paying special attention, you may not either. 

While many children can ignore sensitivity, tooth pain is difficult to ignore. If your child comes to you with tooth pain, it’s time to see a dentist.

Catch These Signs of Tooth Decay

Have you noticed any of these common signs of tooth decay in children? Cavities can be sneaky, but as long as you know the signs of tooth decay that you need to look out for, you can catch them early.

Make sure to talk to your child about these signs so they’re able to come to you if they think that they have a cavity. After a quick trip to the dentist, they’ll be good as new!

Are you looking for a new dentist for your child? Contact us to set up an appointment with Dr. Rhonda C. Hogan today.