When Tooth Extraction is the Best Option
Dentists will do everything possible to save a tooth and extraction is always the last resort. However, there are occasions when pulling a tooth is the only option, and this applies to children as well as adults because baby teeth are subject to the same issues as permanent teeth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five youngsters in the U.S. aged five to 11 has tooth decay. Restorative treatments such as fillings or crowns can often address this problem but in severe cases of cavities, tooth extraction may be the best option for your child’s dental health.
Other reasons to extract a child’s tooth include:
- Overcrowding that could hinder the growth of the jaw.
- A broken tooth that’s beyond repair.
- Preparation for orthodontic treatment.
In some cases, a tooth may not be able to emerge through the gum line (impaction). In these instances, extraction is the best course of action.
With older children, extraction of wisdom teeth may be necessary if they aren’t growing in properly, which can damage nearby teeth, the jaw bone, and nerves.
Reasons to Extract a Baby Tooth
Primary teeth (aka baby teeth or deciduous teeth) typically begin to erupt through the gums at around the age of six months. By the time your little one is three years old, the whole set of 20 baby teeth should be in place, starting to make way for permanent adult teeth at around six or seven.
When your child is about four years old, their facial bones, including the jaw, start to grow to create room between the primary teeth for the larger permanent teeth to emerge. From six to 12 years, your child will have a combination of primary and permanent teeth.
Preserving primary teeth is important to provide enough room for the permanent teeth but in some cases, a dentist will have no choice but to pull a baby tooth early.
If decay has become advanced to the extent that it’s causing pain or gum infection, extraction will be the best option for your child’s dental health.
Sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t do her job and some baby teeth refuse to make way for the permanent teeth. This problem generally affects upper canine teeth and lower incisors. Removing these teeth will make room for the adult teeth to emerge.
Dentists will usually place a space maintainer in the gap left by removal of a baby tooth to ensure that underlying adult teeth can emerge in their correct position.
According to government health experts, the main reason for tooth extraction in children aged three to 13 years is decay and the teeth most frequently removed are first primary molars and central incisors.
Preparing Your Child for a Tooth Extraction
There are two types of tooth removal:
- A simple extraction when the tooth is visible above the gum line. This entails a local anesthetic and gently removing the tooth with forceps.
- A more complex, surgical extraction when the tooth is impacted. This will involve removal of some surrounding gum tissue, possibly under general anesthesia.
In both cases, you need to prepare your child to avoid the procedure becoming a traumatic experience for them. Having a tooth taken out can be frightening for children if they don’t know what to expect so acquaint your child with the procedure. This could entail:
- Role-playing a visit to the dentist.
- Talking about the procedure with them and easing their concerns.
- Reading picture books with your child about going to the dentist.
- Concentrating on the long-term positive side, such as stopping pain or discomfort.
After Your Child’s Tooth Extraction
Your child may be in some discomfort after a tooth extraction, and the dentist can prescribe pain relief or recommend an over-the-counter option.
It’s important to keep gauze on the surgical area until the bleeding stops. Let your child rest with their head elevated and avoid unnecessary activity until the blood clots.
Give them soft foods high in nutrients for a few days. Avoid foods that can irritate the surgical site: salty snacks, and hot, acidic or spicy foods.
Other measures to help a child recover after a tooth extraction include:
- Creating a comfortable area to rest and relax.
- Keeping the mouth clean by rinsing with warm salt water.
- Reducing pain and swelling with an ice pack.
- Making sure they drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Call the dentist immediately if your child shows any signs of a fever, severe swelling or acute pain.
How to Help Avoid a Childhood Tooth Extraction
You can minimize the possibility of your child needing a tooth extraction by encouraging them to stick to a routine of good oral hygiene.
Dentists usually advise parents to brush their child's teeth for them until around the age of six. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends supervision of a child’s tooth brushing until about the age of eight, which gives you the opportunity to get your child into a regular routine of brushing that will carry on throughout their life.
Flossing is as important as brushing. It reduces the risk of cavities and gum inflammation by removing bacteria-laden plaque from places a toothbrush can’t access.
A pediatric dentist with a strong focus on preventive care can help your child to avoid tooth extraction with measures such as:
- Regular check-ups. The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) say parents should take their child for their first dental appointment when they get their first tooth or by the time they’re 12 months old.
- Professional cleanings and fluoride treatments.
- Dental sealants.
Finding the Right Dentist for Your Child’s Tooth Extraction
A tooth extraction doesn’t have to be a traumatic experience for children. With the proper preparation and the right dentist, your youngster should feel comfortable and reassured as they undergo the procedure.
Finding an experienced, caring and compassionate pediatric dentist will make the entire experience easier for both you and your child.