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Repairing Children's Teeth

Fillings in Children's Teeth

When dentists talk about restoring a tooth, they are referring to any procedure that returns the tooth to its original shape and function. Fillings and crowns are the most common ways to do this.

Children's primary and permanent teeth sometimes need restoration. There are several reasons this might be needed:

  • Decay (dentists call it caries)
  • Trauma — a broken or cracked tooth
  • Poor development, so that a tooth may be too small or improperly shaped
  • Endodontic therapy (pulpotomy or root canal therapy)
  • Change in color

Restoring Children's Primary Teeth

You may think it's not necessary to place a filling in a primary (baby) tooth. After all, it eventually will fall out and be replaced by a permanent tooth. However, primary teeth are important for several reasons:

  • Chewing food
  • Allowing speech to develop normally
  • Maintaining space for the permanent teeth
  • Guiding permanent teeth into position

Also, remember that tooth decay is an infection. If a primary tooth is decaying, this infection may also spread to other teeth, including adult teeth that are developing or already in the mouth. Infection can also affect the child's general health.

A primary tooth can be restored with a filling or a crown. Which one is used depends on how much of the tooth is still healthy.

Primary teeth are more likely than permanent teeth to need a crown if they have a lot of decay. That's partly because primary teeth are smaller. They also have thinner layers of enamel (the outer surface) and dentin (the layer beneath enamel). Large fillings in primary teeth tend not to last as long as crowns. Stainless steel crowns are the crowns of choice for primary teeth.

A primary tooth with a filling or crown will still fall out when it is time for the permanent tooth to come in.

Restoring Children's Permanent Teeth

Children's permanent teeth generally are filled in the same way as adults' permanent teeth. The making and fitting of a crown, however, is somewhat different.

Until the early teens, a permanent back tooth that needs a crown typically is covered with a prefabricated stainless steel crown. Some dentists also are now using zirconia crowns (which are tooth colored). Either of these types of crowns can be placed in a single visit. Adult crowns usually require two visits.

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Last updated May 8, 2014