Combined Root Canal & Gum Problems

Your child won't keep his or her first teeth forever, but that doesn't mean those tiny pearly whites don't need conscientious care. Maintaining your child's dental health now will provide health benefits well into adulthood, as primary (baby) teeth serve some extremely important functions.

Kids developing jaws and teeth.

For one thing, primary teeth serve as guides for the eruption of permanent (adult) teeth, holding the space into which these new teeth will erupt. The crowns (tops) of the permanent teeth actually push against the roots of the baby teeth, causing them to resorb, or melt away. In this way, the adult teeth can take their proper place.

What's more, your child's primary teeth will be there for most of childhood, helping your child to bite, chew and speak. For the first six or so years, he or she will be relying on primary teeth exclusively to perform these important functions. Until around age 12, your child will have a mix of primary and permanent teeth. You will want to make sure those teeth stay healthy and are lost naturally — when it's time.

Your Child's First Teeth

Kids mouth anatomy.

Your child's 20 baby teeth will begin to appear usually between six and nine months, though in some cases it may start as early as three months or as late as twelve months. The two lower front teeth tend to erupt first, followed by the two upper ones, these teeth are called the central incisors. Then the neighboring teeth called lateral incisors will erupt too. The first molars come in next, followed by the canines (eyeteeth). And finally, the last teeth to erupt are the two-year molars. Sometimes your baby can experience teething discomfort during this process. If so, there are courses of action to help make your child more comfortable.

Your infant's gums should be gently wiped after each feeding with a water-soaked gauze pad or damp washcloth. As soon as the first tooth erupts, establish a daily brushing routine with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and no more than a thin smear of fluoridated toothpaste. Your child may need your help with this important task until about the age of 6.

Your Child's First Dental Appointment

Age one dental visit

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that your child see a dentist by his/her first birthday, or as early as the first tooth erupts. Though this may sound early, learning proper pediatric oral hygiene techniques, checking for cavities, and watching for developmental problems is extremely important.

There are a number of forms of tooth decay that can affect babies and small children. Early Childhood Caries (tooth decay) can develop rapidly, progressing from the hard, outer enamel layer of a tooth into the softer, inner dentin in six months or less.

Most of all, it's important for your child to have a positive experience at the dental office as he/she will be a regular visitor for years to come.

Pediatric Dental Treatments

There are a variety of dental treatments offered to prevent tooth decay in children, or to save or repair teeth when necessary. They include:

Topical Fluoride — Fluoride incorporates into the enamel of teeth, making it harder and more resistant to decay. Although there is a small amount of fluoride in toothpastes and in some drinking water supplies, a higher concentration can be applied professionally to your child's teeth for maximum protection.

Dental Sealants — A plastic coating can be applied at the dental office to prevent cavities by sealing the little grooves on the chewing surfaces of back teeth known as “pits and fissures.” These little crevices become the perfect environments for decay-causing bacteria. Immature tooth enamel is more permeable and therefore less resistant to tooth decay. Dental sealants are easy to apply and provide years of protection (Watch Dental Sealant Video).

Root Canal Treatment — Perhaps you have had a root canal treatment yourself, to save an injured or severely decayed tooth. Well, sometimes children need root canals, too. In children these are called pulpotomies or pulpectomies. As mentioned above, baby teeth are important guides to the permanent teeth that are already forming beneath your child's gums. Therefore, saving them from premature loss can help prevent a malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite) that requires orthodontic treatment.

Bonding — Chips and minor fractures to front teeth — common childhood occurrences — can be repaired with tooth-colored bonding materials. These lifelike resins made of plastic and glass can be used on baby teeth as well as permanent teeth and last until the youngster has completed facial growth (Watch Bonding Video).

Orthodontic Concerns

Orthodontic Problems.

By around age 7, most malocclusions have become evident. Interceptive orthodontic treatment around this time can help direct proper tooth positioning and/or jaw growth, eliminating or simplifying the need for later treatment. There are many orthodontic problems that can be detected early and are examples of why a trained professional should evaluate your child during his/her growth and development.

Sports & Your Child's Teeth

If your child is active in sports, a custom-made mouthguard is a highly recommended safeguard. According to the American Dental Association, an athlete is 60 times more likely to suffer dental harm when not wearing one of these protective devices. A custom mouthguard is made specifically for your child using a model of his or her teeth. This will offer greater protection than an off-the-shelf model. It's an investment that pays off highly in the form of reduced pain, suffering — and dental expenses down the road!

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Tooth pain.When you experience pain in your mouth, it's sometimes abundantly clear which tooth is causing it. At other times, the sensation of discomfort is more diffuse, generalized or hard to pinpoint. On occasion, it can even be challenging to determine exactly what problem or combination of problems is causing the symptoms you're experiencing. This may be the case when an infection exists in the root canals of a tooth as well as the gum tissue adjacent to it.

In this situation, the infection may have begun in the pulp of the tooth itself; or, it may have started in the gums. Over time, it has spread from one location to the other — and now it's causing a confusing set of symptoms that are difficult to sort out. Regardless of where the problem started, a thorough analysis will be necessary before treatment can begin, to give you the best chance of saving the tooth.

Confusing Symptoms

Root canal infection leading to gum disease.

From time to time, many people experience oral discomfort that's dull or intermittent. Occasionally, a more insistent pain may be triggered by a stimulus like temperature (from hot or cold foods or beverages) or pressure (from biting down on something). Sometimes, it may feel as though the ache is coming from a group of teeth rather than one single tooth — or even from the sinus area above the back teeth.

These symptoms can indicate a number of dental issues, including root canal and gum problems, and shouldn't be disregarded. However, if you manage to ignore the acute pain, in many cases it will fade in time. But this isn't good news: It generally means that the infected tissue in the pulp of your tooth has died, and the nerve is no longer functioning. That's when the problem may become more serious.

Chicken or Egg?

Gum disease leading to root canal infection.

When the pulp tissue inside your tooth becomes severely infected, it's possible for the disease to move through openings at the end (apex) of the root, and outside of the tooth. It can then spread to the periodontal ligament, which anchors the tooth to the surrounding bone and gum tissue. From there, the infection may extend to the gum tissue and cause periodontal disease, or even result in a painful gum abscess. At that point, you may have pain — even severe pain that will let you know exactly which tooth is affected.

But it's also possible for the infection to be spread by the exact opposite pathway. In this case, an infection that originated in the gums (commonly due to periodontal disease caused by a buildup of plaque) may have has traveled through small passageways called accessory canals, which are located in between a tooth's roots, or on the sides of the roots. The infection can then extend into the tooth's pulp. If your teeth are fractured, it's even easier for disease to spread.

Treatment Methods

When dental problems involves both root canals and gum disease, saving the affected tooth can prove challenging. This is when it matters where the infection started: If it's primarily a root-canal problem that later moved into the gums, the outlook for the tooth is reasonably positive if it receives immediate treatment. If gum disease came first, however, the prospects often aren't as good; by the time the infection has moved into the tooth, it's possible that much bone has already been lost, making the tooth's long-term prognosis poor.

In either case, the cause of the tooth pain will need to be diagnosed and an effective treatment plan developed. The sooner that happens, the better: Root canal and gum problems simply don't get better on their own.

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