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Does Your Child Need A Root Canal?

May 10, 2023 ABC Children's Dentistry

Most of us think of root canals as an adult dental procedure, but children sometimes need them, as well.  How do you know if your child really needs a root canal?  Is it safe for children to have this procedure?  What are your options for avoiding unnecessary pain and oral surgery?

What is a Root Canal?

A root canal is a dental procedure that is designed to remove bacteria from beneath the surface of a tooth in the area known as the root.  This removal of infection can save the tooth and prevent the need for extraction.  Root canals are performed routinely on adults who have suffered some type of injury or damage to a tooth, even if there are no visible chips or cracks.  A root canal procedure may be indicated when the pulp of a tooth is inflamed or infected and could lead to an abscess, particularly as an alternative to removing the tooth altogether.

The Baby Tooth Dilemma

For many years, conventional wisdom dictated that baby teeth were not good candidates for root canals.  This idea came from the fact that baby or temporary teeth will be lost at some point, so it seemed simpler to pull them than to try to save them.  Root canal procedures, which at one time were difficult and expensive, were saved for more serious cases involving permanent teeth.

However, thinking among professionals has changed over the past few decades.  We have a better understanding now of how important baby teeth are in maintaining the shape of the jaw and the integrity of emerging permanent teeth.  Therefore, the best case scenario is often to be able to save a baby tooth–even if a root canal may be required.

What Can I Expect From A Child’s Root Canal?

If your child is going to have a root canal, here are the steps that your dental team will take:

  1. Your child will receive a local anesthetic in most cases to numb the tooth. If the child is particularly agitated, other sedation options may be better.  You and your child’s dentist can discuss what type of sedation is best for your situation.  The child will also probably need a dental dam of some type to keep the tooth clean, dry and isolated during the procedure.  For very small children, it may be wise to rehearse this with a practice session to avoid fear and anxiety.
  2. Next comes the drilling. The dentist will access the inside of the tooth by creating a small opening along the top.  Depending on the location of the tooth, this opening may be in the center or toward the back of the tooth.  Then, the dentist will use a small file to clear away damaged pulp and will wash away any debris with water.
  3. The dentist will also apply an antimicrobial solution to the inside of the tooth to kill off any remaining infection. This keeps the tooth healthy after the procedure and allows it time to heal.
  4. Finally, the dentist will fill the “canal” with material that will support and protect the tooth until it can be capped. Depending on your child’s age and the condition of the tooth, this cap may be very simple and designed to come off with the baby tooth or more extensive.

At ABC Children’s Dentistry, we work with parents to ensure that children have a safe, pleasant dental experience–even if they have to have more extensive procedures done.  If your child needs special care for anxiety or fear, let us know–we are happy to work with you!