Baby teeth have vital roles to play in your child’s long-term oral health.

We watch our children hit a lot of milestones on their way to growing up, from their first steps to their first date—usually with a camera in hand, ready to get evidence of our little one’s big moment. When it comes to your child’s oral health, two of their biggest developments involve getting their first baby teeth and then losing them several years later. Since baby teeth aren’t around for long, it’s not uncommon for people to wonder if they’re really that important. The truth is they are! Your child’s baby teeth help your little one complete basic tasks like eating and speaking, but they also save space for their adult teeth and help guide them into place.

Protecting your child’s baby teeth helps their adult teeth grow in straighter and healthier, potentially cutting down on future orthodontic treatments. But what if your child’s baby tooth suffers extensive decay? Thankfully, you’re not out of options! In some cases, pulp therapy can save a severely damaged baby tooth, restoring its health so it can keep fulfilling all of its jobs until it’s time for it to fall out naturally. If this is your first time hearing about pulp treatment in primary teeth, don’t worry! We’ve broken down the basics of pulp therapy to help ensure your child gets the best pediatric dental care possible.

What is tooth pulp?

Tooth pulp is a bundle of nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue located at the center of each of your teeth. It’s the tooth pulp that keeps your tooth alive, feeding it nutrients that keep It healthy and strong. In young teeth, this is particularly important because it fuels the formation of dentin, which is the softer portion of your teeth just underneath the enamel. Your tooth pulp is also responsible for the sensory function of your teeth, or their ability to sense pressure and temperature.

What is pulp therapy?

Pulp therapy is used to save teeth that have been severely damaged by decay or injury which exposes the pulp of the tooth to bacteria. Tooth pulp can’t simply be cleaned, so your child’s dentist will remove the pulp entirely and fill the space left behind to prevent bacteria from getting inside it in the future. You might have heard of this treatment before by the name “root canal therapy,” but there are two types of pulp therapy, so it’s not always as involved as the term “root canal” may make you think. This method is used to save both primary and adult teeth, but pulp treatment in primary teeth is essential for ensuring that the damaged primary tooth can continue guiding the development, alignment, and spacing of your child’s permanent teeth.

What are the symptoms of pulp problems?

Since tooth pulp contains nerves and is vital for tooth health, issues with it can very quickly lead to symptoms like tooth sensitivity, which can take the form of sharp or shooting pains in response to pressure or hot or cold temperatures. It can also lead to constant tooth pain, especially at night, and swelling or red gums around the affected tooth. The affected tooth may also become loose or wobbly and will eventually fall out without treatment. A fever along with tooth pain, especially if associated with swelling, is a sign that the tooth may have become infected. Infections can be serious, so you should call and schedule an emergency appointment right away if you notice these signs.

When do you need pulp therapy?

When a tooth has been severely damaged from an injury or decay, exposing its center to bacteria, pulp therapy is likely necessary to save the tooth. Since the nerves are located in the pulp of your tooth, cavities don’t hurt until they’ve reached it, so pain is often the biggest sign that pulp therapy is necessary for your little one. Baby teeth have a thinner layer of protective enamel over them than adult teeth do, so cavities can form and spread more easily for children. Keeping up with your kids’ dental care is generally an effective and simple way to ensure that your child’s teeth stay healthy.

What types of pulp therapy are there?

There are two types of pulp therapy. The type that you likely think about immediately is called a pulpectomy, where your child’s dentist removes the entirety of the tooth pulp, cleans the interior of the tooth, and fills the tooth space left behind by the pulp. Once this is done, they will usually need to place a crown over the affected tooth to protect it from future damage. This isn’t always your only option, though. There’s another, less involved type of pulp therapy called a therapeutic pulpotomy. This treatment is used when only the top part of the tooth pulp is impacted by decay or injury and other parts of the tooth pulp are still healthy. Instead of removing everything, your child’s dentist may choose to only remove the affected tooth pulp along with the decayed parts of their tooth. Tooth pulp doesn’t grow back, so the dentist will still fill the new space inside your child’s tooth and place a crown over it to prevent future injury, decay, or infection.

How do you prepare for the therapy, and what should you expect during it?

One important element of dentistry for children is making sure they feel comfortable, safe, and relaxed throughout their dental appointments. As a result, it’s wise to work with your child’s dentist to explain the procedure in a way that they’ll understand without making them scared. New experiences can be scary, especially when they don’t know what to expect, so helping them know the basics of what they can expect is helpful for some children. Try reading books about dentistry and dental treatments before their appointment so the experience doesn’t feel as new or scary.

Pulp therapy is often performed with simple numbing, just like a cavity filling, but you and your child’s dentist may choose to use some level of conscious sedation depending on your child’s age, anxiety level, and ability to sit still throughout their appointment. The treatment process will likely take two appointments, and your child will experience a little soreness once any localized anesthetic wears off. Thankfully, however, this soreness is generally very mild—about the same level of discomfort they’d experience after a standard cavity filling. You’ll want to ensure your child eats soft foods for a few days, and you should monitor them the day of their appointment if they received any form of conscious sedation, but recovery is usually relatively simple for your little one!

Learn more about pulp therapy with the help of our dental team.

As with so many other things in life, timing is everything for your child’s oral health. Their teeth are designed to fall out eventually, but the timing is crucial, helping to ensure their adult teeth grow healthy, strong, and come in straight. Thankfully, pulp therapy can save even severely damaged baby teeth, easing the pain of your child’s toothache and helping ensure that their baby tooth can stay in place as long as it needs to. If you’d like to learn more about pulp therapy and how it could help your little one, feel free to call our pediatric dental care office to schedule an appointment at any time.

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