Our teeth are made up of several layers. The hardest, outer layer that we can see is called enamel with a layer underneath called the pulp that is much softer than enamel and contains connective tissue, blood vessels, and nerves, making it extremely sensitive. Beyond this, in the very center, is the root that serves the tooth with blood to keep it healthy.
Unfortunately, it is possible to develop problems with the pulp. One of the most common issues is an infection that can occur when the tooth is severely damaged by trauma or decay. When this happens to a baby tooth, many people wonder why it is necessary to try and save it. After all, within a few years they fall out and are replaced by permanent adult teeth. However, losing a baby tooth too early can lead to problems, including difficulty biting and chewing, issues with speech development, and misalignment caused by adjoining teeth moving into the space. If your child develops a problem in the pulp of one of their teeth, they may be referred for a procedure called a pulpectomy.
A pulpectomy procedure is the name given to a dental treatment with the goal of removing any infected or diseased pulp from the tooth. In doing so, it is possible to save the tooth so that it no longer requires extraction. While it sounds just like a root canal, it is actually different in that it is usually performed on children in order to save a baby (first) tooth. As such, you may hear of it referred to as a baby root canal.
The procedure is very like that of a root canal except that instead of the roots being addressed, it is the diseased pulp that is removed from inside the affected tooth. The inside of the tooth is then disinfected to remove any residual traces of bacteria before being refilled with an inert material that can be reabsorbed by the body when the baby tooth falls out.
Pulpectomy procedures are performed using a local anesthetic, but it may be possible for your child to be sedated so that they are not anxious or scared. In some cases, a general anesthetic may be recommended instead. You will be advised what you can expect to happen, and your dentist will work with you to relay the important information to your child in a reassuring and easy to understand way so that they can feel prepared but not scared about their procedure.
It may take a few hours for the effects of the anesthetic and sedation to wear off, but once it does, your child will be able to resume eating and drinking right away. The area around the affected tooth may feel a little swollen and sore, but this is normal and can be alleviated using over-the-counter pain medications. In some cases, your child may also be prescribed antibiotics and if so, you should make sure that they take the full course exactly as directed.
Pulpectomy procedures are usually very safe with few complications. However, if your child experiences severe pain, increased sensitivity to hot/cold foods or new signs of infection such as redness or inflammation, it is important to speak to your dentist right away.
If you have any more questions about what is involved in a pulpectomy, please don’t hesitate to speak to our experienced and reassuring pediatric dentistry team today.