What in the World Is a "Baby Root Canal"?
Within each tooth there exists what is known as the “pulpal chamber” which houses the tooth’s nerve center. This nerve center is called the “pulp,” and it contains the blood vessels, connective tissue, and reparative cells that keep the tooth “vital,” (or, alive). When a child experiences tooth trauma or decay so severe it threatens the integrity of the tooth, a therapeutic pulpotomy (or, baby root canal) is often recommend to save the tooth.
Why Is It Called a Baby Root Canal?
The use of the term “baby root canal” is actually a bit misleading because with a therapeutic pulpotomy, the removal of pulp stops just before the tooth’s root structures begin. And, if no pulp is removed from the root structures, it’s not technically a “root” canal. But, moving on.
What Happens During the Procedure?
Depending on the severity of the infection or injury, a child who needs the procedure would undergo either a “partial” pulpotomy, or “complete” pulpotomy. With a partial pulpotomy, only a portion of the dental pulp is removed from the pulpal chamber, and in a complete pulpotomy, all of the pulp in the chamber is removed, just to the point where the root structures begin (as discussed above.)
Like any other procedure to remove decayed or weakened areas of the tooth, a pulpotomy would begin with your child’s dentist first excavating these specific areas from the tooth. Once the dentist has gained access to the pulpal chamber, the infected pulp would be removed as well, commonly with a high speed bur (a drill), or a spoon excavator, which resembles a small, narrow spoon at the end of a long metal handle.
Once this step is complete your child’s dentist would use a sterilization agent to clean the chamber of any remaining bacteria, and then seal it with a therapeutic compound made with Zinc Oxide and Eugenol (oil of clove). The natural properties of these two materials allow them to effectively “sedate” the tooth, (or, allow it to calm down) and begin its own natural healing process.
When the tooth is sealed, your dentist may decide to place a stainless steel crown on the tooth for further protection that will cover the tooth until it is replaced by its future permanent replacement.
If your dentist recommends pulpal therapy for your child, it is important to give serious consideration to the recommendation. An infected tooth is not something to play around with, and such infections can be fatal if left to progress on their own. Get a second opinion if you wish.
So heed your dentist’s advice if the suggestion comes up in one of your visits, and know that thanks to advanced dental techniques and medicines, pulpal therapy isn’t painful, and will have your child walking out of the office with a tooth that will remain in place (and in good health) until it is good and ready to fall out on its own.