“Your child has a small cavity,” says the dentist. What’s next? And since baby teeth fall out eventually, do you technically even need to fix them? The short answer is yes, but the story doesn’t end there. As a parent, you actually have a lot of options. You can…
Option 1: Schedule an appointment to fill the cavity.
Your dentist will usually let you know how far out you can schedule the appointment with the least risk of discomfort to your child.
- You avoid the risk of the cavity growing deeper into the nerves.
- You reduce the danger of an untreated dental infection leading to sepsis (a sometimes deadly infection in the blood stream).
- You can catch the cavity before your child experiences tooth pain.
- You reduce the risk that your child will need additional treatment for a deeper cavity, such as a root canal.
- Your child may experience some discomfort in the filling process.
- A cracked or unsealed filling in baby teeth can sometimes let bacteria in and cause complications in permanent teeth.
- Setting up another dental appointment could mean more time away from school or another planned activity.
Option 2: Take a “wait and see” approach.
If the cavity has not entered the nerve yet, your child may not be experiencing pain yet. You can wait to see if the cavity will grow deeper into the nerves and only then fill the cavity. Just don’t forget to ask your dentist how far out you should schedule an appointment to get it checked again.
- Gives you the opportunity to see if your child’s tooth will heal itself.
- You’ll still need to set up another appointment to keep the cavity monitored.
- Depending on the depth and aggression of the cavity, the cavity could get worse, cause pain or increase treatment complications.
- You run the risk of waiting too long to get it filled.
Option 3: Attempt to reverse the cavity.
Tooth decay occurs when acids and bacteria strip the minerals out of enamel, but until the enamel is worn through, you can actually rebuild it. Read specific ways you could try to reverse your child’s early cavity here. If the decay has not yet eaten through the enamel of the tooth, then it is an “incipient carious lesion,” or what many professionals would call a “microcavity.” The beginning stages of tooth decay are reversible! Before choosing this option, ask your dentist whether the cavity has progressed too far to attempt this.
- May rebuild tooth enamel and avoid filling.
- Can avoid the potential complication of a cracked or unsealed baby tooth filling in the future.
- The cavity may progress to the roots and cause pain. If the tooth decay has eaten its way through the enamel and is progressing into the dentin or if there is an obvious crack or fissure in the surface of a tooth, then getting treatment sooner rather than later is likely the best option.
- Untreated cavities can be very painful and can damage or kill a nerve fairly quickly. Once the nerve is dead, your child may experience a temporary relief from the tooth pain, which might lead you to think that the problem solved itself. Typically, though, the pain relief is a short-lived calm before the storm of infection sets into the dead tooth in the form of an abscess. Treating an abscess usually requires a root canal to thoroughly clean out the infection and reseal the tooth. If your child begins to complain of tooth pain, delaying treatment will likely increase the level of damage and expense that you incur.
Option 4: Get a second opinion.
Keep in mind that general/family dentists won’t use as many methods as pediatric dentists to diagnose early cavities and will often have a less-cautious approach. Read why dentists can disagree on how many cavities your child has here.
- Another professional opinion could set your mind at ease.
- Reestablishing care often takes more effort than having a conversation about your concerns with your current dentist.
- Delaying care until you can be seen by another dentist could increase the level of damage and/or pain your child experiences.
- It’s possible for another dentist to be less cautious in the methods they use to diagnose early cavities.
Bottom line? We believe you should be able to make an informed decision alongside your child’s pediatric dentist! So when the dentist tells you that your child has a cavity, feel free to ask for details about the extent of the decay and whether your child’s dentist recommends methods for rebuilding the enamel or establishing a plan to monitor the cavity!
We want to take a cautious and thorough approach, seeking your child’s best interest and partnering with you in caring for your child’s teeth!