No one wants to see their child in pain, so it’s only understandable to be concerned if a root canal is recommended. Root canals, also called endodontic (endo, meaning inside and dont, meaning tooth), are frightening enough for adults, much less small humans. And because the procedure is rare, you may have even thought root canals are only for adults. Yet there are times when a root canal for kids is the appropriate treatment.
Signs your child may need to be evaluated by a dentist include:
- Constant pain, especially if it’s sudden or appears for no reason
- Increased sensitivity to temperatures (cold or hot) of foods or drinks
- Swelling or redness in the gums around a tooth
- Unexpected looseness of a tooth.
Anatomy of a Tooth
All teeth have a protective outer coating made of enamel. Enamel is the hardest substance found in the body. If the enamel is damaged due to cavities or trauma (such as getting hit hard enough to chip a tooth), this can damage the inside of the tooth, known as the pulp.
The pulp is found inside the tooth in the “pulp chamber.” This chamber branches out into canals that go into the tooth roots. The pulp is filled with blood vessels, connective tissues, and very sensitive nerves. So, if the pulp is damaged, it often leads to pain.
What Is a Root Canal for Kids?
Whether performed on an adult or child, a root canal procedure removes infected pulp as well as dead or dying tissue from inside of a tooth. However, the root canal procedure is slightly different for younger patients. First, the dentist will often begin with X-rays to see how deep the infection is and the extent of the damage (i.e., size and shape).
After confirming the need for the procedure, the dentist will use a numbing agent to help eradicate any pain. In addition, a gentle sedative may be used to help calm and relax the child through the procedure.
Before the procedure, the dentist will place a rubber “dam” around the affected area to protect it from saliva, which can contain harmful bacteria. The dentist will then use a miniature dental drill to create a small hole to remove the infected pulp from inside the tooth and thoroughly clean and disinfect the tooth. Then, the cavity will be filled with gutta-percha, a rubbery material that seals and protects the tooth. A temporary crown is then placed, which will be replaced once a permanent crown can be made. Finally, a permanent dental crown can be placed two to three weeks later to restore the tooth.
You and your child will be sent home with instructions on how to care for their teeth, and you may also receive antibiotics to help eliminate a risk of further infection.
When Are Root Canals for Kids Recommended?
Root canals for kids are only recommended when a tooth is damaged or infected due to an injury, accident, or abscess to save the tooth. The bacterial infection inside the tooth can cause severe pain and discomfort and kill the root, causing the tooth to fall out. Root canals may also be recommended for teeth that have erupted before the roots are fully developed if the nerve (pulp) is damaged.
Root canals are performed to remove infection from the pulp inside the tooth and reseal the tooth to protect it from further infection or damage. The affected tooth may result in constant, throbbing pain. While many people fear the pain caused by a root canal, this procedure actually eliminates pain and helps prevent the infection from causing further pain and damage.
The tooth in question is most likely permanent. However, baby teeth can also be affected and may need treatment. Because baby teeth naturally fall out within a few years, you may wonder if the procedure is required.
For young children, teeth need to stay in place as the child learns to speak and chew. Otherwise, they may develop speech and bite issues that are more difficult to resolve as they get older. Ensuring baby teeth stay in place can also help permanent teeth form and come in normally. This is because baby teeth hold a place for the permanent tooth. If the baby tooth falls out, the other teeth can shift, which can interfere with the alignment of all teeth.
Is a Root Canal for Kids Safe
One of the biggest concerns for parents when discussing a possible root canal for their child is the procedure’s safety. This is especially true for young children who may only have baby teeth.
Parents may be concerned about the procedure itself or the medications used for numbing and sedation, which may have lingering aftereffects. Fortunately, when performed professionally by a pediatric dentist, root canals for kids are very safe and can protect the health of your child.
Do, however, make sure you discuss any allergies with your dental team before the procedure. Children can be allergic to antibiotics as well as anesthesia. If you know about any previous allergic reactions, discussing them with your dental team allows them to choose an alternative.
Root canals for kids are also only recommended as a last resort when the tooth in question is in such bad health that it could fall out, leading to pain and increasing the risk of infection in the nearby teeth and gums. Dentists who perform this procedure have extensive education and training to ensure the safety and well-being of the child.
To ensure the comfort of both the child and the parent before the procedure, your dentist can address your concerns, answer questions, and walk you through the process and how they address any issues.
If your child is experiencing pain or discomfort in their mouth, contact our High Point Cosmetic Dentistry Practice at (366) 841-0000 to make an appointment today or to discuss possible options, including a root canal for kids.