How the Dentist Saves Your Child’s Badly Decayed Tooth

Tooth decay is the most prevalent oral health problem in kids, especially younger children who haven’t yet lost their primary or baby teeth. Dentists can quickly treat most simple cavities by cleaning away the decay and placing a filling, but what if your child’s tooth is more complicated?

If the dentist discovers that your child’s decay is extensive and the tooth’s pulp is affected, a filling won’t be enough to solve the problem. Instead, they may recommend a pulpotomy or pulpectomy, two distinct procedures that sound similar but have fundamental differences.

Let’s learn how these two treatment options save teeth and what circumstances your child’s dentist will recommend.

What is tooth pulp?

Inside every tooth are three components: a shiny white enamel exterior followed by a layer of dentin, which protects the innermost section of the tooth called the pulp. Inside the pulp are blood vessels and nerves that enter the tooth through the tip of each root.

Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the body, but cavity-causing bacteria and acids can penetrate this tough protective layer, resulting in a cavity. Mild to moderate cavities only reach the tooth’s dentin layer before treatment. Cavities that migrate to the tooth’s pulp are a much more serious problem. They can lead to intense tooth pain for your child, and a filling isn’t enough to stop the pain and save the tooth.

Instead, the dentist will need to perform a pulpotomy or pulpectomy.

What is a pulpotomy?

A pulpotomy is a procedure that removes most, but not all, of the pulp from a tooth. The dentist will only remove the coronal pulp, meaning the infected pulp above the gum line, and leave the remaining healthy pulp in the tooth’s roots. Since there are still nerves and blood vessels left, the tooth remains alive and healthy after treatment.

When is a pulpotomy used?

Pulpotomies can only treat teeth that still have some healthy pulp left in the tooth’s roots. The dentist will also ensure that there are no abscesses or signs of bone loss around the tooth before moving forward with treatment.

Pulpotomies are sometimes called baby root canals. Although the name is slightly misleading because a pulpotomy is not a root canal, it does reference the popularity of pulpotomies being performed on baby teeth. It’s a great way for dentists to help a child’s baby tooth recover from pulp damage until the tooth is naturally shed with age.

If a tooth is too far gone for a pulpotomy, then a pulpectomy is another option.

What is a pulpectomy?

A pulpectomy goes a step further than a pulpotomy. Rather than simply removing a portion of the infected coronal pulp, the dentist will remove all pulp from the tooth’s interior and roots. After treatment, the tooth will be considered inert.

When is a pulpectomy used?

Pulpectomies are used when a tooth has extensive pulp infection or if the tooth has abscessed due to an untreated infection. Baby teeth with this level of damage are typically considered “dead” even though they may still have enough nerve sensation left to cause a lot of tooth pain.

Sometimes, a tooth may be dead, yet not feel any pain whatsoever. Only a digital X-ray or the development of permanent discoloration will give away the tooth’s true condition. This is a great example of why regular dental check-ups are crucial for your child’s health, starting at one year of age.

What about root canals?

A root canal, or root canal therapy, is essentially the same procedure as a pulpectomy because both require completely removing a tooth’s pulp. They also both result in an inert tooth that’s otherwise still functional in terms of chewing, speaking, etc. They differ in how the treated tooth is finished after removing the pulp. A standard root canal is finished with a dental crown; whereas, a pulpectomy on a baby tooth may be treated with a special sealant to protect the tooth until it sheds on its own.

Pulpotomy and pulpectomy treatment with Dr. May.

Dr. May is a beloved family and kids’ dentist near Granite City, IL. He and the Metro East Dental Care team provide comprehensive dental services, including pulpotomies and pulpectomies, to save kids’ teeth from premature tooth loss and subsequent orthodontic and functional difficulties.

Our modern dental office is outfitted with the latest dental technology, such as 3D cone beam imaging, to make your family’s experience as comfortable as possible. By joining our private dental membership plan, you can also save money and skip the insurance headache.

Schedule an appointment with Dr. May today by calling our office or requesting a visit online.