If your child’s dentist has told you that your son or daughter needs a root canal, you’ll probably have a lot of questions. After all, root canals have a reputation for being complicated, painful and expensive.
Fortunately, modern root canal treatments for kids are actually safe, affordable and usually only cause minimal discomfort. Here’s what you need to know about root canal treatments for kids:
How Do Root Canals Help Teeth?
In order to understand how root canals work, let’s first take a closer at teeth. The white exterior of a tooth is made from enamel, which is actually the hardest substance in the body. Inside the enamel, at the center of the tooth, is the tooth’s pulp, which is filled with nerves, blood vessels and connective tissues. Pulp is housed inside a central space called the pulp chamber as well as in passageways called canals which lead down into the tooth roots.
Pulp’s main purpose is to help produce dentin, a calcified tissue which is a major component of teeth. Additionally, pulp provides a variety of nutrients to organic material around the tooth. While pulp is very important during a tooth’s development, it becomes less so after the tooth is fully formed.
However, the nerves inside the pulp remain active. This is why damage to the pulp is usually painful. Unfortunately, pulp can be damaged in a variety of ways including cavities, infections, a forceful impact and more.
What are Root Canals?
The solution to pulp problems is often a root canal. During a root canal, all of the pulp is removed from the tooth. This eliminates the infection, inflammation or other source of pain. After the pulp is removed, it’s replaced with sterile filling materials. These materials provide a support structure so the tooth can remain in the mouth. Typically, root canals are the preferred alternative to extraction. Plus, they also help prevent additional dental problems from developing in the future.
Why Might Kids Need a Root Canal?
A child’s first tooth usually appear around their first birthday. For the next few years, primary teeth will continue to emerge until the child has a full set of 20. Even though they’re temporary, primary teeth play an important role in chewing and speaking.
Plus, primary teeth act as placeholders. Permanent teeth grow inside the gums until around the age of seven, when they start to emerge. The primary teeth act as guides so the permanent teeth emerge correctly. This poses unique challenges if primary teeth develop any problems.
Baby teeth shouldn’t be extracted completely. Missing primary teeth create a gap in the child’s smile. The surrounding primary teeth will shift position to fill this gap, which causes a variety of complications when permanent teeth start to emerge. Emerging permanent teeth could become impacted, crowded, misaligned or develop other problems.
However, even though primary teeth shouldn’t be removed, sometimes they can’t be allowed to stay in place, either. Infections, cavities and other issues must be treated quickly. Problems left untreated can quickly grow in severity and easily spread to other teeth. A root canal is an effective way to stop a dental problem without pulling a tooth. When the primary tooth can remain in place, a variety of potential eruption-related problems can be avoided.
What is a Root Canal like for Kids?
The young patient-to-be will typically be given antibiotics for a few days before the actual procedure. Antibiotics help reduce any bacteria which might be inflaming the gums. The more bacteria which can be removed, the easier it will be to apply topical anesthetic, making the root canal far less painful. Before the procedure begins, both the tooth and gums will be numbed.
Next, a rubber dam is placed around the damaged tooth. This protects the rest of the mouth from infection and other potential damage. The dentist will drill a microscopic hole in the tooth to reach the pulp chamber. All pulp will be removed from the chamber and even down through the length of the canals (which is where the term “root canal” comes from).
After the pulp is cleared away, an antiseptic and antibacterial solution is used to clean out the entire area. So far, the root canal procedure is basically the same for kids and adults. But now important differences begin to take shape.
With adults, the inside of the tooth should be filled with special dental material, usually a rubber-like substance called gutta-percha. Filling the tooth helps promote stability. After all, the permanent tooth should remain as solid and secure as possible inside the mouth. Once the tooth is filled, a crown will usually be applied.
But primary teeth generally aren’t filled at all or are filled with a biocompatible material designed to be absorbed by the body over time. They’re also fitted with only a temporary crown. This allows the primary teeth to remain securely in place for a few years, while also allowing it to be moved naturally by the erupting permanent teeth.
How Much Do Root Canals for Kids Cost?
A pain in the tooth doesn’t need to cause a pain in the wallet. Root canals can be involved procedures requiring at least a few dental visits. But many people are able to save big at the dentist’s office by using a dental discount plan. For an annual fee, dental discount plan members are eligible for savings of 10% to 60% on a variety of dental procedures, often including root canals and related care. Over 110,000 dental professionals nationwide participate in dental discount plan program, including many root canal specialists (a type of dentist called an endodontist).
While root canals can sound scary, they’re usually much easier and less painful than many people think. They’re usually the best choice to help protect a child’s oral health, especially during the transition period between primary and permanent teeth. With a great dentist in your corner, and a dental discount card to help make the procedure more affordable, a root canal is often the right move for great oral health.