Article written by: Dr Mitchell Innes

If your child's teeth have started to decay, don't despair: there are several treatment options for lost tooth structure in ‘baby teeth'.

Our children's health is one of those ‘musts' in life where we do everything we can to ensure it's in check. But we can all make decisions about our child's health that may not turn out as we expected, such as ensuring they eat lots of fruit and drink milk and fruit juice instead of soft drinks. We can also slip into the ‘easy way out' mode when our child is screaming or won't settle down until he or she has a particular sweet or drink.

Although I will recognise the benefits of a healthy balanced diet containing fruits and dairy, I will point out the downside of such a diet when given at non-ideal times such as before bed, in a baby bottle, after exercise or frequently through the day instead of at defined meal times. These food items are rich in carbohydrates and are often acidic. Let's take oranges and apples for example. Oranges contain 11% sugar and a pH of 3.5 (very acidic, below 6 is bad for teeth) and apples contain 12% sugar and a pH of 3.4. Once these sugars and acids are put into the mouth they contribute to the breakdown of tooth structure, especially baby teeth which only have very thin protective enamel. A diet containing these items coupled with poor oral hygiene, where no flossing is done, is a perfect recipe for tooth decay.

Once the ‘baby teeth' begin to decay, they breakdown very quickly as they have little enamel. This breakdown of tooth due to infection or ‘decay' can then lead to an abscess forming in the supporting bone, infection spreading to surrounding tissues and tooth loss, almost certainly requiring complex orthodontic treatment to correct. Preventing the decay in the first place is the best option, however once the decay has started in a tooth, how can we save that tooth? The answer is a dental restoration as early as possible.

We have many restorative dental materials available for the treatment of lost tooth structure in ‘baby teeth' by wear or decay and they include amalgam, composite resin, glass ionomer and stainless steel crowns. The choice of which material to use comes down to a number of factors, however some standout considerations are: how much tooth is left/how extensive the tooth loss/decay is; how long the restoration will last for; value for money, and which material will minimise the number of visits. The final decision is made by the parent/guardian about what is best for the child, and then we go ahead with treatment in an environment that is most comfortable - after all, it's in all of our best interests to minimise the impact of a dental visit on a child.

I'm often asked the question: "When should I bring my child in for their first check up?" The answer is usually around the age of three years so that we can check the child's development and act to stop decay occurring in the first place or get to it early rather than too late. At Casey Dentists we have a special interest in caring for children's dental health and can provide treatment in rooms or in one of our regular lists in a hospital setting.

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