You’ve just taken your child to the dentist, only to find that he has a cavity in a baby tooth. But, since that tooth is just going to fall out anyway, can’t you just let the cavity go, instead of going through all the trouble associated with filling it?
“As I’ve discussed in other blogs, baby teeth are extremely important and should be cared for just like the permanent teeth,” says Alpharetta children’s dentist Dr. Nanna Ariaban. “They help your child eat and speak properly, and ensure the permanent teeth are healthy and can erupt properly.”
So, is it necessary to have a cavity filled? Dr. Nanna says yes, with certain exceptions.
For small cavities, there is a possibility that they can repair themselves through remineralization. If the dentist catches the cavity when it has just started, your dentist can give you tips to help better care for your child’s teeth and hopefully prevent the cavity from growing. This will include proper diet and oral hygiene habits.
Next, if the dentist can determine that the tooth is close to falling out, it may not be necessary to fill it. If your child won’t have the tooth for very much longer, the dentist may recommend just allowing the tooth to fall out without repairing it.
“But it’s important that parents follow the advice of a well-trained dentist, who has the unique knowledge of treating children,” says Dr. Nanna. “Our opinions are informed by years of careful study and treatment, and we know what can happen when decay is left untreated.”
A 2014 report from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists revealed that by age 5, nearly 60% of children in the U.S. will have experienced some level of tooth decay. The same report stated that when left untreated, this decay can lead to infection, difficulty in chewing and even malnutrition. Other studies show that children who have dental decay often experience difficulty in school due to pain associated with the problem.
“It wasn’t that long ago that children didn’t come for their first dental visit until the late toddler or early preschool years, when they had a mouthful of teeth,” says Dr. Nanna. “But, we saw the rate of childhood caries continue to increase, so now it is recommended that children see a dentist for the first time by the first birthday. This way, we can work with parents to develop good oral hygiene habits, help with dietary tips, and monitor the teeth so we can intervene before an issue becomes a big problem.”
But why do parents need to take the time, and spend the money, to fix teeth that will just fall out eventually anyway? Tooth decay is a disease, plain and simple. It’s caused by specific germs, and can be spread easily, and it can last a lifetime. And if the baby teeth have serious decay, the permanent teeth can become damaged even before the erupt.
“Have you ever heard a dentist tell you not to clean your child’s pacifier off in your own mouth?” says Dr. Nanna.
“This is because the bacteria that live in your mouth can be introduced into your child’s. It’s also why we say never share toothbrushes or even store toothbrushes where they can touch each other. Introducing new bacteria can lead to decay, especially in a child who has a diet high in sugar and who doesn’t have proper oral care habits.”
If your child complains of dental pain, or even headaches, schedule a dental appointment right away. This can be a sign that there is decay, and the issue should be addressed by a dentist before it progresses too far. Whether your dentist recommends filling the cavity, or taking a more precautionary wait and see approach, you’ll know you are making an effort to save your child more pain and other problems.
Even though baby teeth will eventually fall out, it’s important that you care for them just as you do permanent teeth. Baby teeth play an important role in a child’s health and well-being. Brush twice a day, floss daily, and maintain regular check-ups with a pediatric dentist, starting around age one.