The mouth is home to millions of bacteria, many of which are very helpful and important for the initial stages of digestion. Some bacteria, though, cause tooth decay. They live on the same food your child eats – especially the sugary foods – and form sticky plaque that coats the surface of teeth and hides along the gum line. Plaque contains acids that can destroy tooth enamel, making it easier for bacteria to reach the inner portions of the tooth – the softer dentin and then the pulp. By that time, your child may have a serious toothache. Routine dental exams can help ensure cavities are found in their earliest stages when they're most easily treated.
Very tiny cavities in the enamel may be treated with fluoride to restore the enamel. More significant cavities will require a filling. During the filling procedure, the tooth may have to be numbed with a local anesthetic and a special drill removes just the amount of tooth material necessary to perform the repair. The healthy tooth is left intact. Then, the area is cleaned and the filling material is placed and allowed to cure or harden. When cavities are extensive and occur in adult teeth, a root canal may need to be performed to save the tooth. In some cases, when decay is severe, or if there is significant decay in a baby tooth, the tooth may need to be extracted or pulled.
No; sealants only cover a portion of certain teeth – usually the top surfaces of the back teeth – protecting them from bacteria and decay. But even then, biting or chewing hard objects can damage sealants, enabling bacteria to reach the tooth surface. Brushing and flossing is still vitally important, with or without sealants.
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