Ask a Pediatric Dentist: What Is a Baby Root Canal?
While various treatments are common in both pediatric dentistry and adult dentistry, root canals may seem like an adults-only procedure. However, this important treatment option is sometimes necessary in young children, even those who still have baby teeth. If a dentist recommends this approach for a child, parents may have many questions about what to expect.
Root canal questions for pediatric dentists
Scheduling a root canal for a child can be overwhelming and intimidating for parents. It is important to talk to a dentist about the ins and outs of the procedure ahead of time.
What is a root canal for baby teeth and why is it needed?
Just as in adults, severe and untreated tooth decay can lead to infection in children. Any type of infection is a serious problem and must be treated immediately to prevent serious health complications. If the infection has affected the pulp of the tooth, a root canal is usually needed. During this procedure, the infected pulp is removed and the tooth is then treated to prevent future decay and damage.
While discomfort caused by other dental issues may come and go based on food choice and level of activity, pain from an infection tends to persist and worsen. If a child experiences extreme oral pain accompanied with swelling, oozing or a fever, a dentist should be seen right away.
Would it be better to just extract the baby tooth?
Some parents assume that simply removing the infected baby tooth is an easier solution. However, most dentists want to preserve baby teeth at all costs since they protect their permanent counterparts. Removing a tooth early could result in negative side effects:
- Poor alignment of permanent teeth
- Chewing problems
- Affected speech development
When possible, it is certainly preferable to salvage a tooth at all costs, especially baby teeth in young children.
What happens during a child's root canal?
During this type of pediatric dentistry procedure, the tooth is first isolated using a rubber dam. This prevents unwanted debris from falling into the mouth and being swallowed during treatment. Next, the dental professional uses a drill to make a tiny hole to access the infected pulp inside the tooth. All of the infected material is removed and the dental chambers are disinfected. Once the area is completely clean, cement is used to fill the now-empty canals. Finally, the tooth is sealed with a crown, usually reinforced with stainless steel, to address decay and protect the remaining healthy tooth matter.
Is follow-up care or treatment needed?
While some discomfort can be expected after a root canal, it is often far less severe than the pain caused by the infection. Still, parents can use over-the-counter children's pain medications as needed for the next day or two. Parents are also encouraged to help children brush and floss carefully to prevent the situation from repeating in the future. Sometimes, a dentist may schedule a follow-up appointment.
Root canals are an important aspect of pediatric dentistry. This procedure is used to treat pulp infection in children and can help preserve and protect the baby tooth until it falls out naturally, promoting oral and developmental health.
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