A root canal is an intensive form of treatment with extensive results. The infected dental pulp (the nerve inside the tooth) is extracted from its chamber. The pulp chamber is then filled with biocompatible latex before the tooth is closed with a filling and reinforced with a dental crown. When the dental pulp is significantly infected, a root canal can be the only means to save the tooth. But is this also true in children?
Performing a root canal on a child's primary (baby) tooth can seem like overkill. What's the point of such involved treatment on a tooth that will naturally be lost before too long? The fact remains that your child will still need treatment at your local pediatric dental office. But pediatric dentistry offers a minimally invasive alternative to a traditional root canal.
Limited to the Pulp
Many dental problems that culminate in the need for a root canal begin with toothache (indicating inflammation and infection of the dental pulp). Dental caries (cavities) may also be visible on the tooth. Schedule an appointment with your child's dentist as soon as suspicious symptoms start to become obvious. If any infection is limited to the pulp and hasn't yet spread down to the tooth's roots, a procedure called a pulpotomy can be performed.
A pulpotomy shares similarities with a root canal, but isn't as far-reaching. In both procedures, the dentist must make an access cavity to reach the dental pulp. In a root canal, the entire pulp is then removed. In a pulpotomy, the infected portion of the tooth is identified and is then severed from the healthy pulp. The pulp in the tooth's primary chamber is removed, whereas the pulp in its underlying canals (the tooth's root system) is left intact.
This is still fairly traumatic for the remaining healthy pulp, so the dentist then directly applies medication to the remaining canal pulp to stimulate healing. The pulp can then repair itself. The tooth's structure, however, can't heal without help. The tooth will be sealed with a dental filling, and a dental crown may be needed too.
Restoring the Tooth
Without a crown, the tooth is weakened and may be damaged in the course of daily activities. Metal dental crowns are favored for children. This is because less preparation is needed for the host tooth, and the crown is less expensive than the porcelain varieties used for adults. But if the tooth will be naturally lost in the not-too-distant future, a crown may not be needed. Your child's dentist will discuss this with you.
A child's dental pulp can become infected, just like an adult's. But while an adult generally needs to have their entire dental pulp removed, it's possible for a dentist to be more strategic with a child's pulp.
For more information, contact a pediatric dental office in your area.