Even though the primary dentition (commonly known as baby teeth) are temporary, it's important to realize how essential they are to the eventual eruption of your child's permanent teeth. Baby teeth play a crucial role in helping kids learn to speak and chew food for nourishment, but they also save space for their adult teeth. This is why, if your child has a badly decayed primary tooth, a stainless steel crown may be the best solution.
Longevity of Baby Teeth
Many parents believe baby teeth aren't in the mouth for long. But the truth is these little chompers need to be functional for quite a few years. The first tooth appears around six months, per the American Dental Association (ADA), and by ages two to three all 20 teeth will have erupted. Although children begin to lose a few baby teeth by about six, they won't lose their baby molars until age 12 or 13. So keeping these teeth healthy until they fall out naturally helps the permanent teeth grow into their proper position, reducing the chances that they'll need extensive orthodontic treatment later.
Filling When They're Small
Beyond their size, baby teeth are a bit different than permanent teeth in that the enamel layer isn't as thick, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the inner pulp portion – which consists of blood vessels and nerves – is larger and much nearer to the surface. Decay can therefore spread through the enamel and affect the pulp much more quickly than in a permanent tooth. For this reason, at the first sign of a small cavity, your dentist will want to repair it with a filling and avoid the need for more complex treatment.
The Stainless Steel Solution
When a baby tooth is extensively decayed and using other filling materials isn't likely to be successful, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends restoring the tooth with a stainless steel crown especially if the tooth has received pulpal therapy. After removing the decay, your dentist will fit and cement a prefabricated crown made of stainless steel over the tooth. Here are some advantages of stainless steel crowns:
- Durable but inexpensive
- Full coverage protection for the tooth
- Very little sensitivity
- Less likely to need retreatment
- More successful than metal fillings in children under four years old
- Good choice for children who need general anesthesia
- Often used as an attachment for a space maintainer
If the pulp of the tooth is involved, the dentist may also need to perform pulpal therapy before placing the crown. But rest assured it is quite common, even for young permanent teeth.
Brushing Away Early Decay
Although tooth decay is preventable, the World Health Organization (WHO) still observes between 60 and 90 percent of school-aged children globally suffer from cavities requiring treatment. As a parent, however, there's a lot you can do to keep your child from ever needing a stainless steel crown.
The first is to engage in prevention immediately. When you're home from the hospital, begin cleaning your newborn's gums after feedings with a wet gauze or washcloth. As teeth appear over time, continue cleaning with a gauze before graduating to Colgate® My First® Toothbrush. And to avoid baby bottle decay, never put your baby to bed with a bottle or fill it with sugary drinks or juices.
Fluoride in Time, and Visit Soon
Use fluoride toothpaste to strengthen your child's tooth enamel. The ADA recommends brushing with a smear of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice for children under age three, and using a pea-sized amount for children three to six years old. Just make sure they don't swallow it! Brush your child's teeth twice a day, and when two teeth are touching, you can begin regularly flossing.
By their first birthday, however, schedule your child's first dental visit. The ADA strongly suggests children see a dentist no later than this milestone. By maintaining regular checkup visits, your dentist can continually evaluate your child's needs for fluoride supplements, in-office fluoride treatments, sealants and possible orthodontic referrals.
Children inspire you to keep their teeth as healthy and as bright as your own. But if one of your child's teeth requires a stainless steel crown, remember it's a good option for the health of your child, their baby tooth and the permanent tooth underneath.