To treat a cavity, the first step is to remove the decayed part of the tooth. Paediatric dentistry now offers three choices for decay removal: the traditional dental “drill”, microabrasion and laser treatment.

The dental “drill”, called a handpiece, remains the technique of choice for removing tooth decay. High-speed handpieces make treatment quicker and more comfortable than in the past, although children still may feel vibrations during the process.

In microabrasion, which is different than cosmetic forms of microabrasion, a high-pressure instrument cuts away decay by blowing a stream of tiny particles at the tooth. Microabrasion is comfortable for children and free of the vibrations of the drill, although it cannot be used for all types of cavities.

A dental laser light can cut through the decayed part of the tooth to remove it. It is usually comfortable and is free of the vibrations felt with the drill.

Laser treatment may take longer than the other two approaches and cannot be used on teeth that already have fillings. Because this approach is relatively newer than more traditional approaches, many paediatric dentists are taking a “wait and see” attitude on the practicality and effectiveness of lasers.

Once the decay is removed, the next step is filling the hole where the decay was. Talk to a paediatric dentist about which of the many choices of filling materials is best for the child.


While it is true that baby teeth do eventually come out, it is also true that they are important to a child in the meantime.

Primary or baby teeth hold space for the permanent teeth to grow in. If one is lost, the others can shift into the empty space and prevent the permanent tooth from erupting. This often means a crooked smile in a child’s future. In addition, a decayed tooth can become abscessed and cause discomfort for a child. “Tooth decay causes significant pain, loss of school days and may lead to infections and even death.” If left untreated, dental caries can result in a broad range of functional impairments that have far-reaching implications for growth, development, school performance, and peer relationships.


If a child has a tiny cavity on the chewing surface of a baby tooth or permanent tooth, then she may be a good candidate for preventative resin treatment. After the decay is removed, the tooth is filled with a tooth-coloured plastic and then coated with a sealant. The filling is virtually invisible, and the tooth is free of decay and protected by the sealant.


Tooth-coloured fillings are made from durable plastics called composite resins. Similar in colour and texture to natural teeth, the fillings are less noticeable and more attractive than other types of fillings. Your child can smile, talk and eat with confidence. Certain tooth-coloured filling materials (such as glass ionomers) even release fluoride, resulting in a

tooth that is more resistant to decay. In addition, tooth-coloured fillings are compatible with dental sealants. A tooth can be filled and sealed at the same time to provide extra decay protection.

Resin fillings are not for every cavity. They work best in small areas of decay in low-stress areas. A paediatric dentist may not recommend a tooth-coloured filling for a large cavity in a back tooth. Resin fillings may cost more than amalgam (silver) fillings because they take longer to place. Plastic fillings are not as durable as metal fillings.


Amalgams, the silver-coloured fillings you probably got as a child, are still serving children well today. Amalgam fillings are made of a mixture of metals including silver, copper, tin, and mercury. Their relative low cost, ease of placement, and durability contribute to their continued use. However, amalgam fillings require removal of healthy tooth structure in order to achieve adequate retention. Because they lack the aesthetic appeal of composite resins, their use is limited to back teeth with small to moderate sized cavities. Used for over 100 years, amalgam fillings have been proven safe with patients all over the world. In a few rare cases, some patients are allergic to the metals used in amalgam fillings. If a child has an allergy to metals, a filling material other than amalgam may be chosen. Amalgam fillings should not be used in primary molars where decay is extensive or for patients who are at high risk for decay and have multiple and/or large cavities


Why would a parent choose a crown for a child? Here are some possible reasons:

  • If a cavity is not caught early, the decay can destroy so much of the tooth structure that there is not enough left to support a filling. A crown will save the tooth.
  • If a child has a root canal, which will leave the tooth more susceptible to fracture, a crown is recommended.
  • A crown can restore a tooth with a developmental defect or a tooth fractured in an accident.
  • If a child is at high risk for cavities and compliance with daily oral hygiene is poor, a crown will restore the decay while protecting the remaining surfaces of the tooth.
  • If a child’s cooperation is affected by age, behaviour or medical condition, a stainless steel crown is likely to last longer and possibly decrease the frequency for sedation or general anaesthesia with its increased costs and risks.
  • Stainless steel crowns are more cost effective and are the treatment of choice for large areas of decay.

Preformed (stainless steel) crowns have been used over 50 years to save teeth that otherwise would be lost or when other treatments would fail. One of the strongest and most durable services in dentistry, they last longer than fillings and cost less than other types of crowns. Their greatest disadvantage is that stainless steel crowns are not the colour of teeth, but the colour of polished silver.

The treatment process is the same for stainless steel crowns as for tooth coloured crowns. First, the decay is removed from the tooth. Next, the tooth is made smaller so the crown can fit over it. The crown is cemented into place.


  • Preventative resins: Tiny cavities, look natural, great preventative measure, smaller investment
  • Tooth-coloured fillings: Small cavities in back teeth, look natural, it work best in low-stress areas, it may cost more cavities in front teeth than amalgam fillings
  • Amalgam fillings: Small to moderate cavities, very durable, less natural-looking, for back teeth, it may cost less than tooth-coloured fillings
  • Preformed (stainless steel) crowns: Severe decay; tooth with a very durable, less natural-looking, more affordable than fracture, developmental tooth-coloured crowns defect, root canal treatment.
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