I'll admit it: My supervision over the dental hygiene of my third toddler is way worse than it was with my first. When my oldest son was 2, I was a veritable tooth brushing machine; now, entire days might go by before I look twice at my third son's teeth. Oops. I don't think he has any cavities yet, but it dawned on me recently that I should familiarize myself with the protocol before taking him to the dentist next month. If he does have tooth decay, what will they do? How do they fill toddler cavities? Let's be honest, the real question is, how do they get a 2-year-old to sit still long enough to do it?
Dentist Dr. Steven Freeman explains that baby teeth are actually more prone to develop cavities because of the way they are shaped and because the enamel on the outside of the tooth is thinner. With less protection, it takes less time for a large cavity to develop. Freeman says pediatric cavities can often be avoided by regular dental visits and limiting your child's consumption of juice and milk — especially before bed — since those drinks are high in sugar.
"Moms, you also want to be careful about spreading your own bacteria from your mouth to your young child’s mouth," Freeman tells Romper. "Saliva sharing, either from using the same spoon as your baby or by cleaning a pacifier in your mouth before sticking it back into your baby’s mouth can form cavities, too."
Introducing toddlers to dental check-ups is often easiest when done at the office of a pediatric dentist like Dr. Denisse Lasanta at Dental Studio 4 Kids in Lutz, Floria. When Lasanta sees a toddler with cavities, she tries to repair the tooth or limit the damage in order to preserve the tooth structure and maintain the space for adult teeth using a Solea Dental Laser for fillings. Her practice favors the laser because it doesn't require the needles or anesthesia that tend to scare children, and is fast and painless.
Lasanta tells Romper she uses techniques like singing, distractions, and eye-to-eye contact to calm young children down, but if a toddler is not able to sit still for a filling she doesn't force it, especially if it isn't effecting his appetite. In these particularly wiggly toddler situations, Lasanta uses a Silver Diamond Fluoride treatment to stop the tooth deterioration.
Dr. Leonard Weiss, practicing dentist and founder of Solstice Benefits, says he sees many parents question the need to fill cavities in their toddler's teeth since they will eventually fall out anyway. However, decay from baby teeth actually can affect the permanent teeth below, and some baby teeth don't fall out until age 12 or later.
A representative of Solstice Benefits tells Romper that children's cavities are usually fixed by crowns — a pre-fabricated stainless steel crown for back molars or a white crown for a front tooth. If the tooth is infected, the dentist will perform a pulpotomy procedure, which is similar to a root canal, only shorter.
While I'm grateful for the solutions that pediatric dentists bring to the problem of early childhood cavities, I'll be honest: I don't want to have to need them. So in my case, it looks like I'm going to have to up my game when it comes to diligently brushing my 2-year-old's teeth. Because it sounds like what these dentists are saying is that the old adage is really true: Prevention is the best form of medicine. (And I'll take that kind of medicine over wrestling a toddler into a chair for a laser filling.)