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Do They Fill Cavities In Baby Teeth? An Expert Explains How They Treat Decay

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"My tooth hurts." These were the words spoken to me just last week by my 7-year-old daughter. She came up to me, cuddled on my lap, and held her cheek. Looking in her mouth, I saw that her back molar had a black hole in the center of it. My gut dropped. We'd been through this with my son already, and worried she'd follow behind. They both grind their teeth all night long, and the dentist said that it was just a matter of time. But do they fill cavities in baby teeth?I used to wonder, but this time I was prepared.

Apparently the practice of filling cavities in baby teeth is a fairly new one. The old wisdom was that you could leave it alone, and the child would be fine as long as it wasn't causing pain. However, current literature suggests that this is not the best course of action. According to an Australian health journal, baby teeth with caries should be filled and sealed to prevent further decay from occurring. Not only does it prevent the possibility of a painful abscess from forming, it inhibits bacterial production in the cavity which can cause further decay and problems down the road.

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I spoke to my kids' dental hygienist Amy Bloomberg to find out if they fill cavities in baby teeth at the office, or if it happens at the oral surgeon. She tells Romper, "Most of the time we can handle it, but if a child needs more care or a root canal, we'll refer them to an oral surgeon." She says that some kids also may benefit from sedation that is not available at the dentist's office, and they'll need to have it performed at a location where there's a certified anesthesiologist, as well as an oral surgeon present for the filling or extraction.

Bloomberg says that the reason it's so important to have those cavities filled is not just because they can become painful. "If we just perform an extraction, or allow them to get crumbly and gross, then your kid's permanent teeth could come in all janky and their bite could get all screwed up." An ounce of prevention is worth thousands of dollars in orthodontics, apparently. "If the tooth is all the way in the back, an extraction is sometimes done, but not often." She says they're balancing the risks versus the rewards.

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As for my family, we will be spending our Saturday morning in the oral surgeon's office, where my daughter will be getting the whole enchilada of dental services — a root canal and crown. I've been told the whole procedure will last between 45 minutes and an hour, and she'll be getting laughing gas and then proceed with a local anesthetic. I'm not going to lie, I'm really nervous about the whole procedure. I will need a huge glass of wine after it's over, and will be hard pressed not to promise her a litter of kittens and a pug puppy for having to have gone through it.

It's just another reminder that kids need to go to the dentist regularly and keep their teeth squeaky clean. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, "more than 40 percent of children have caries [cavities] by the time they reach kindergarten." And most of those children are in lower-income households, noted the research, with low-income children from ages 2 to 5 years old with cavities reaching 42 percent, while higher income families experienced 18 percent. The numbers may sound scary, but letting your kids' cavities hang out without being filled is even more upsetting. It's best to take them to regular checkups and hope their teeth are healthy. Trust me, dental-induced panic attacks aren't just for the patients.