A 2002 report from the surgeon general of the United States tells us that tooth decay is the most chronic childhood ailment, and in 2005 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call tooth decay the most common disease in children 5 to 17 years old.
The first group of teeth that children get is called their primary or deciduous teeth, meaning that they will loose them at some point and that they will be replaced by their adult teeth. In most children, this process happens gradually between about 5 and 12 years of age. When primary teeth get cavities, it is important to restore them whenever possible, especially if it is going to be several years until that tooth’s permanent counterpart comes in. Primary teeth are important in speech, chewing, comfort, esthetics, and space maintenance. Most of these are self evident, but space maintenance might not be—if a primary tooth is removed prematurely, then other teeth tend to collapse into the vacant space left by the missing tooth and can cause crowding and mal-positioned adult teeth in the future.
“Why is it important to keep a child’s primary teeth healthy and in position?” you might ask. Just like an adult tooth, a “baby tooth” can get cavities and those cavities can cause the tooth to become infected if they are not treated leading to pain and other signs of infection. We are able to use very similar treatments to restore damaged baby teeth to health as we use for adult teeth. We typically restore the smallest cavities with fillings, as they grow larger and begin to get close to the tooth’s nerve (or grow to include several surfaces), more coverage is necessary. To get this full coverage protection, generally, we will place a stainless steel crown (cap) over the tooth to restore it to normal size and shape once the decayed parts are removed. The roots of baby teeth are steadily being “dissolved” as the adult tooth grows underneath it, so when the nerve is involved, we will often do a procedure called a pulpotomy rather than complete root canal therapy. A pulpotomy is the first part of what would be done for root canal therapy in an adult tooth.
Dental sealants are a great step toward preventing decay on adult teeth as soon as they come into the mouth. A resin is flowed into the pits and grooves on the chewing surface of the teeth making them less likely to have a cavity in one of the most cavity prone areas of the tooth.
Preventive care is one of our top priorities at Parklane Family Dental in Fort Smith and Rogers AR. Bringing your child in for routine dental cleanings and examinations is the best way to prevent him or her from having major dental issues. Generally, we begin seeing children in our office around the age of six, but pediatric dentists are the perfect option for the youngest patients! Really, the earlier you can get your child in to a dentist for a “happy visit” the better. As soon as a child has teeth, he or she is old enough to go to a pediatric dentist. Bringing a child in at an early age allows him or her to get comfortable with the sounds, smells, and sights of a dental office. If a child has had 4 or 5 visits at an early age with little more than dental check ups, you could imagine how much easier it will be on him or her if he or she needs to have a more involved procedure in the future. They will know and trust the dentist and his staff, not to mention that problems can be caught earlier and be able to be fixed more easily and less expensively.