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Are Root Canals Really Necessary For Children?

Are Root Canals Really Necessary For Children?


Endodontic therapy — aka “root canals” — are one of the very last lines of defense that your dentist can use to save a tooth. They’re needed when a cavity, crack, or other trauma affects the nerve inside of a tooth, causing it to die or become abscessed. Otherwise, the tooth would just wind up having to be pulled.

But for children, why is it necessary to perform such a treatment? After all, if it’s a baby tooth that’s involved, can’t it just be pulled?

Abscessed Teeth Can be Life Threatening for Kids 

Infected teeth often cause severe pain for children. In some situations, an abscessed baby tooth can lead to serious infection and swelling that extends deeper into the head or even the brain. It’s not an uncommon event for children to be hospitalized for facial swelling or brain infections associated with infected teeth.

Don’t avoid having the tooth fixed simply because you don’t feel like it isn’t necessary. If you ever doubt your dentist’s recommendations regarding your child’s recommended treatment, you owe it to your family to get a second opinion.

Why You Can’t Afford to Pull That Baby Tooth 

Ok, so now you see why it’s important not to leave an infected tooth alone. But if it’s a baby tooth that your child is going to only have for a few more years, why can’t you just pull it?

That baby tooth plays the part of “guide” when it comes to telling the underlying adult tooth where to erupt. If you’ve ever seen an x-ray of a baby molar, the permanent tooth underneath was probably aimed right between its roots.

If you pulled the tooth, there would no longer be a guide for the next one. But more importantly, the teeth on each side would start to close inward or lean toward the space. When this happens, the erupting tooth may never erupt at all. Instead, it can become impacted (trapped) under the other teeth and lead to significant orthodontic concerns later on.

Damage Spreads to Other Teeth

Now that we’ve established the need to keep baby teeth for as long as possible — yet still treat the infection — why not an antibiotic instead of a baby root canal? Here’s the short version: a root canal treats infection and prevents it from returning, but antibiotics only eliminate the bacteria that are there at the moment. You need a way to prevent reinfection in the opening of the tooth.

When a tooth is abscessed, you will usually see a cyst or circle around the root tip on an X-ray. This bacteria-filled sac can spread the infection to other teeth, even involving adult teeth that are still developing. While you can’t see that big infection just looking into your child’s smile, your dentist can. You wouldn’t leave an open wound untreated on your arm, nor should you do so in your child’s mouth.

Types of “Root Canals” for Kids 

Do kids get the same type of endodontic treatment that an adult would? Not usually. In most cases, the teeth are primary (baby) and will fall out eventually, or the adult tooth’s root is still forming. Depending on the situation, your dentist may recommend what is called a “pulpotomy.”

During a pulpotomy, the tooth is numbed and the diseased nerve inside of it is removed — just like during an adult root canal — but because the baby tooth will dissolve over time for an adult tooth, the chamber isn’t filled. Instead, medication is placed into it and a crown (“cap”) is fitted to cover the tooth. If an adult tooth is involved, your child would eventually need to have it retreated when they’re older and their mouth is completely developed.

Specialists vs. Family Dentists 

While your general or family dentist has been trained to provide root canals in children, the procedure sometimes requires special equipment that they may not have on hand. Seeing a pediatric dentist is usually recommended. Not only do they have the facilities to ensure an efficient treatment, but the team is experienced in helping little ones feel comfortable and safe during the procedure.

Most pediatric dentists don’t require a referral, unless it’s mandated under your particular insurance plan. If you don’t have insurance through your employer, you can still get affordable coverage through alternatives like a dental savings plan. At, our discount dental experts can help you find a program that fits your budget and is accepted by over 100,000 dentists nationwide. Save anywhere from 10-60% on children’s dental checkups, root canals, and more. Call today!

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