Root canal therapy for adults isn’t the only type of endodontic treatment used in dentistry. Dental nerve treatment is also commonly recommended for young children.
Unfortunately, many parents and caregivers fail to understand the importance behind endodontic treatment for baby teeth. You may not think that a “baby root canal” is necessary, but it’s a vital step in protecting your child’s oral and overall health.
As is the case, here are a few reasons why root canals in children should be completed as soon as possible:
Baby Teeth Decay Very Quickly
Primary (baby) teeth are less dense than their adult counterparts. A permanent adult tooth has enamel over a thick dentin layer that protects the nerve inside. Baby teeth do not. As such, when a cavity breaks through the enamel of your child’s tooth, that decay can spread very rapidly. What might be a small spot of tooth decay or demineralization at today’s dental checkup could be a very large area with an infected nerve at your family’s next six-month appointment.
Abscesses occur when the decay works its wayroot c through the tooth and reaches the nerve inside. When the nerve becomes infected, inflamed, and fluid accumulates, it drains out the tip of the root and through the side of the gums. The only way to treat this is to have the nerve removed through endodontic therapy.
“But They’re Just Going to Fall Out”
Yes, it’s true. The primary tooth that needs endodontic treatment will one day fall out. That’s what nature intended. But what wasn’t intended was for the baby tooth to fall out prematurely. When that happens, it jeopardizes the developing orofacial anatomy and occlusion (biting) relationships between the upper and lower teeth.
Your child’s first set of teeth act as guides for the developing permanent adult teeth underneath. When one suddenly disappears because of an extraction — and proactive space maintenance isn’t put in place — the adjacent teeth can collapse inward and cause adult teeth to erupt in less than desirable positions, or become impacted. A missing tooth at age five could mean complex orthodontic treatment as a teen.
That’s why it’s always healthier to have a decaying baby tooth repaired, if possible. Preserving the natural biting and spacing patterns of your child’s smile will set them up for success years down the road.
The Risk to Other Teeth
Endodontic therapy on primary teeth benefits adjacent teeth in the area. By removing bacterial infections and preventing them from spreading, adjacent teeth can continue to develop without the risk of being affected by the decaying tooth.
Common side effects of delaying root canal type treatments in a baby tooth include:
- Severe abscesses that result in hospitalization
- Tooth decay “jumping” to the next tooth, or infecting the adult tooth developing underneath
- Pain or chronic discomfort
- Delays in speech development
- Problems eating
- Missed school days
What to Expect During Pediatric Endodontic Treatment
A “baby root canal” is different than the type of endodontic treatment you’re used to hearing about in adult teeth. A typical root canal in a permanent tooth involves filling the hollow chamber after the nerve is removed. But if you do that with a baby tooth, the root won’t shrink away properly as the underlying adult tooth starts to erupt.
Instead, your pediatric dentist will recommend what’s called a “pulpotomy” or “pulp and crown” procedure. In these cases, the infected nerve is removed, the inside of the tooth medicated, and the top of the tooth covered is to prevent reinfection. In some cases, a portion of the nerve might be left behind, with only the upper portion removed or medicated, which is called a “pulp cap.” (The removal of the entire nerve is a “pulpotomy.”)
Because the primary tooth will only be there for a few more years, there’s no need for an expensive dental crown that’s designed to last for an extended amount of time. Rather, a temporary stainless-steel crown or affordable white crown is used (for front teeth.) These crowns are durable enough to protect the tooth and help your child eat comfortably.
Maintenance and Care After Pulp Treatments
You’ll need to continue taking your child for dental checkups every six months to ensure their smile is healthy. It’s especially important to floss around the treated tooth each day, to prevent recurrent decay around the temporary crown. Your dentist or hygienist will show you how to do this carefully, so that the crown isn’t accidentally pulled off.
If you think your child might have an infected tooth, you need to seek out a pediatric dentist for endodontic treatment as quickly as possible. But if you don’t have insurance, you may be wondering how you can afford specialty care. Fortunately, there are affordable alternatives to dental insurance, like the Cigna dental discount plans available through Cigna Dental Plans. These Cigna dental savings programs can be used at your family dentist or a specialist (including pediatric dentists) to save 15-50% on common treatments. Enroll today to start saving right away.