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Cavities in Baby Teeth: Should You Get Baby Teeth Filled?

Fillings Baby TeethA lot of parents wonder if it's really necessary to have their children get fillings in their baby teeth.  Since baby teeth just end up falling out, why not let the cavity fall out with the baby tooth rather than paying to have a dentist remove the cavity?

Many people assume that baby teeth aren't that important since they quickly get replaced by permanent adult teeth as a child grows.

Even though they do end up falling out, baby teeth are important!  When they're healthy, they can help children eat healthy foods.  When baby teeth get infected, they can damage the permanent teeth developing under them and in severe cases they can cause brain infections.  If you missed my earlier article, you can read it to learn five reasons why baby teeth are important.

Now that you understand why baby teeth are important, let's talk about whether or not baby teeth need fillings.

Should You Get Cavities in Baby Teeth Filled?

When thinking about getting cavities in baby teeth filled, there are a couple of main things to think about: How much use your child will get out of the filling and how big the cavity is.

First, let's talk about how much use your child will get out of the filling.  The book Pediatric Dentistry by Pinkham says, "A carious primary molar in a 6-year-old is a problem; a loose carious mandibular incisor may not be if it is about to exfoliate."

If a tooth is about to fall out (or exfoliate if you want to speak in fancy dental terms), then your child probably wouldn't get much use out of a filling in that tooth.

The other main factor to look at is how big the cavity is.  Although dentists recommend treating cavities when they are small, sometimes a cavity can be so small that it can repair itself under the right circumstances!

In the book Paediatric Dentistry, the authors discuss the question of whether or not to treat baby teeth.  One of their points supporting not getting fillings in baby teeth says, "Remineralization can arrest and repair enamel caries. It has long been known that early, smooth surface lesions are reversible. In addition, it is now accepted that the chief mechanism whereby fluoride reduces caries is by encouraging remineralization, and that the remineralized early lesion is more resistant to caries than intact enamel."

If the cavity is small and has just started, there is a chance that it can repair itself through the process of remineralization.

Keep in mind that this repair will probably NOT occur unless your child's diet and oral hygiene dramatically improve!  There's a reason that your child started to get a cavity and if nothing is done to change the habits that started the cavity, then the cavity will probably get worse.

If you don't think you will alter your child's diet or oral hygiene, then it's probably a good idea to have the dentist put a filling in the baby tooth while the cavity is small so that the cavity doesn't get bigger.

On the other hand, if the cavity is small and you are willing to work really hard at improving your child's diet and oral hygiene, then the cavity can remineralize.  In this case, there there's no need to get a filling in your child's baby tooth.

Conclusion

When considering a filling in your child's baby tooth, it is important to think about how much longer the tooth will be in the mouth and the size of the cavity.  If the tooth will be falling out soon, it may not be necessary to get a filling.  If the tooth won't fall out for a couple of years, then it's probably a good idea to get a filling in your child's baby tooth.

Most dentists will be able to give you a good idea as to whether or not your child would benefit from a filling in a baby tooth or if it's really not necessary.

Do you have any questions or comments about fillings in baby teeth?  I'd love to hear them in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!


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9 Comments |  Leave A Comment

  1. I had never thought before about getting a cavity filled in a baby tooth. so far, my kids have not had any cavities. We make sure to consistently brush their teeth, though I'm sure I could add in a few more brushes daily! I hope we don't ever have to make a decision about cavities in baby teeth. I've been reading up on how to care for my kids teeth better. This Mom's Guide has been really helpful for that. I hope you find it helpful too. http://www.1dental.com/moms-guide/

  2. My baby got her firsts cavities when she was 6 months, i know shocking i brush her teeth when shes done.drinking her bottle or eating. The dentist wants to wait till she's 1yr to do something about them.

  3. Unless the cavity is severe enough to do damage, filling cavities in baby teeth is costly and does no good for any child. I can understand if a child has a very severe cavity that causes pain, but usually these types of cavities take many years to develop. Any child under age 7 who is losing teeth does NOT need fillings! My dentist has remarked to me about this; she will not fill cavities on small children unless infection is a problem, or unless there is pain associated with the cavity. Why have parents spend money on cavities when the teeth are only going to fall out in a matter of months?

    • Hi Sarah - Opinions differ on this. In baby teeth, the enamel and dentin layers are very thin when compared to permanent teeth so a small cavity can become a large cavity that reaches the nerve in less than a year. I've seen them grow rapidly. The last baby tooth is usually lost around 11 years old, so it's best to have the dentist evaluate the situation and collaborate with the parent on what is the best course of action.

      If a tooth is going to fall out in a matter of months, it shouldn't be filled as I stated in the article above. Have a great day and thanks for your comment!

      • Hey Tom,
        My 6 yr old just had a dental visit today. She is very afraid, but I got her thru the pictures and the cleaning. Then the dentist tells me not only does she have 7 cavities, but that she NEEDS a Frenectomy. I read an article of yours and was greatly enlightened about a lot of things. My daughter speaks very well, complains of no pain. I see no need for this procedure yet. But, the cavities. Would you recommend I let her be "put under" because she is so afraid? I know she's not letting anyone near her with a dental drill. Help!

        • Hi Bernard - You may want to ask the dentist what would happen if the frenectomy were not performed.

          Whenever you will be investing over a thousand dollars into something, it might also be a good idea to get a second opinion. Are any cavities on the front teeth? Those will start to come out around her age. I would make sure that the dentist shows you either x-rays or pictures of the cavities so that you are comfortable with the recommended treatment and then goes over the benefits and risks of sedation while answering all of your questions. I hope that helps! Good luck getting her teeth back into good condition!

  4. I have a 5 year old son and on a recent visit to a new dentist (we moved states), the new dentist said that my son needs several fillings on his back molars. When you inspect his mouth his teeth look fine (nice and white - no obvious problems), but the dentist showed me x-rays of where the enamel is thin and said that they needed to be filled because they were molars that he would have for a while. The dentist was recommended by my son's pediatrician whom I trust and I understand that he will have them for a while still, but I just don't know that putting fillings in teeth that have no actual visual flaws is a good idea. Also, he has had a small cavity on one of his front teeth since not long after he cut is front teeth (It is touching the tooth next to it very closely). We have flossed and brushed trying to keep the cavity from getting larger and I think it has worked pretty well... the last dentist who we saw did not fill because he felt my son would most likely loose the tooth before it became an issue and we would just keep a close eye on it until then. The new dentist wants to fill that one as well because he says that it is "close to the nerve". My question with this is, is it worth it at this point? My entire family including myself, my siblings and my older son have all cut their teeth early compared to most people and lost these teeth at age 5 or 6 at the latest... When I told the new dentist this he said most kids keep those teeth until age 7 so it should be filled too... My son with the issue also cut teeth early so should I put him through getting it filled or just hope that he looses it before it gets so bad as to reach the nerve?

  5. Hi,
    I have a little boy that is 3 months away from his 3rd birthday, and he has cavities. He has three visible brownish cavities on his two lateral incisors and one central incisor, near the gumline. He didn't have any cavities when I took him for his first dental appointment 5 months ago. He goes back to the dentist this month. I'm so worried that he will need stainless steel caps. He has such a precious cute smile. I am so ashamed that he has cavities, because I know it's my fault for not enforcing better oral hygiene. He absolutely cannot fall asleep without a bottle. He was breastfed until he was 22 months old, then I started letting him have pediasure in bottles because he wasn't eating enough (I didn't think) and he wasn't nursing as much either. Once he started getting bottles, he quit nursing and has to have a bottle to fall asleep. He doesn't sleep with the bottle though.
    Anyway- my question is this: do they do fillings on a little boy this young, or do they do stainless steel caps? Is there a chance of remineralization if his cavities are light brown/tan and not very deep?

  6. Hi,
    I have a grand daughter that is seven years old and has a cavity in the back.
    At what age do most of the first (baby) teeth come out? The mother wants to spend $500.00
    to get it filled. I think that at her age it would be a big waste of money. Let me know what you think.

    Thank you, Jim

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Tom, Creator of Oral AnswersHi, I'm Tom. I recently graduated from dental school and am now a dentist in Bridgewater, Virginia. I started this blog to help people take better care of their teeth. You can learn more about me or ask me a question.

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