Tooth decay and cavities are common in children. In fact, according to The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 42% of children develop cavities in their primary teeth. Even if you are making sure they brush and floss every day, sometimes cavities will still happen! 

It’s not always visually obvious when your child has a cavity. Here are some signs you can look out for:

  • Discomfort while brushing certain teeth
  • Increased sensitivity to hot or cold
  • Discolorations on or around teeth
  • Bad breath that doesn’t seem to go away after brushing or using mouthwash
  • Food getting stuck in areas between the teeth

So what do you do when your child complains about a toothache? Or you notice a tooth is starting to look discolored?

If you notice any of these symptoms, calling a pediatric dentist is the first step! After assessing your child, your pediatric dentist can go over appropriate treatments for your child’s tooth decay. It’s important to get your child’s baby teeth fixed because:

  • Baby teeth can hurt and abscess just like adult teeth. Toothaches are NO fun!
  • Your child may not be able to tell you that their teeth hurt. If their jaw begins to swell, the infection can spread to other areas of their body.
  • Your child needs teeth to chew their food. That step in getting proper nutrition is key.
  • Not all baby teeth fall out at the same time. Your child may be between 10 and 15 before they lose all of their baby teeth!

Depending on the severity of the tooth decay, your child’s dentist may recommend a filling, extraction, or crown. Read on to learn more about what each of these options entail and why a dentist would recommend them.

Fillings 

Fillings are generally recommended for baby teeth that are not falling out soon to prevent more invasive and expensive treatment. All filling material is designed to be non-toxic so there are no chemicals that will harm your child. 

Many parents ask why we would fill a baby tooth if it is just going to fall out eventually. However, leaving a cavity in a primary tooth unfilled can eventually lead to an abscess and cause infection for your child. With that in mind, leaving a cavity untreated puts your child at an unnecessary risk of infection.  It is also much easier to fill a small cavity than to put a crown on a tooth or have to pull a tooth.  Fillings are much easier, faster and less expensive.

Extractions 

If your child’s baby tooth has a cavity and is already loose, the pediatric dentist may opt to just wait until it falls out. However, if the tooth is loose and causing your child pain, the pediatric dentist may recommend an extraction to get your child out of pain rather than subjecting your child to further discomfort.

Extractions are not our first option because baby teeth help with your child’s jaw and facial development.  Extracting a tooth before the underlying adult tooth is ready to come in will leave a gap in your child’s mouth until a new tooth can grow in. This will leave your child open to crooked teeth, teeth that will grow on top of one another and costly orthodontic treatment. When a baby tooth has to be extracted a spacer will need to be put in your child’s mouth to prevent the teeth from shifting and allow your child to grow properly.

Crowns

Dental crowns would be recommended if your child’s tooth is too decayed to fill. Crowns completely cover the tooth and help to hold a tooth together so the tooth can be saved instead of extracted.  Crowns are a better option than extracting a baby tooth because they are not as invasive as an extraction. 

It is important to note that pediatric crowns are done in one visit, unlike adult crowns. In fact, a pediatric crown can be completed in about 45 minutes or less. This is also why pediatric crowns are much cheaper than adult crowns.

Don’t Forget to Focus on Cavity Prevention

Even if your child has a cavity, there are still opportunities to shift their dental habits and prevent future cavities!

We talk a lot on our blog about how to develop positive dental health habits. When talking to parents about how to help their kids avoid cavities, we recommend 10 ways to prevent cavities and avoid tooth decay:

  1. Avoid sugary foods and snacks.
  2. Avoid sticky foods.
  3. Limit snacking to 1-2 times a day.
  4. Take advantage of treats that don’t contain a lot of sugar (chips, fruit, smoothies, pretzels)
  5. Serve sugary treats and desserts only with meals.
  6. Serve cheese!
  7. Brush with fluoride toothpaste and rinse with a fluoridated mouthwash.
  8. Use the proper sized toothbrush for your child – you may be missing areas because the brush is too large.
  9. Flossing, flossing, FLOSSING!
  10. Visit the dentist regularly.

We go into more detail about each of these tips in our post “How to Prevent Cavities and Tooth Decay.” We hope you will check out that post next!

Sealants are also another helpful resource for cavity prevention. If your child has already had a cavity, placing sealants on their permanent teeth can help prevent more cavities. 

Give us a call at 336-887-9277 to discuss all your options for treating your child’s tooth decay. We look forward to helping them have healthy teeth for years to come.