By Vishant Nath DMD
Oftentimes when children are diagnosed with cavities, parents ask the question, “When should we have them treated?” They wonder if this is something that needs to be done right away, or can it wait until a later date. I always emphasize that treatment should be done right away, as untreated cavities can lead to severe dental infection.
According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, students miss more than 51 million school hours per year because of dental problems or related conditions. Dental pain can distract students, cause their schoolwork to suffer or even lead to school absences. Children and adolescents with healthy teeth have better school attendance, are more attentive in the classroom and tend to participate more fully in school-related activities.
Although finances can be a deciding factor in choosing to defer treatment for parents, this ideally shouldn’t be their determining factor as untreated decay can cause more expenses if the child were to require hospitalization for a serious dental infection from untreated dental decay.
The type of dental infection that can lead to hospitalization can have the following symptoms1:
- The affected child may be dehydrated and in pain.
- The child's body temperature may exceed 101 degrees F, which indicates a severe infection.
- Trismus may develop. This is the inability to open the mouth widely. It is caused by inflammation of the chewing muscles (muscles of mastication).
- A dental infection can spread deep into the face and neck, and may require surgical drainage in order to resolve the problem.
- Deep infections of the face, head, and neck can quickly produce life-threatening complications which would lead to hospitalization.
This type of dental infection is treated in the following manner1:
- The most important step in treating a dental infection is removing the source and cause of the infection. This often means removing (extracting) the offending tooth. Extracting the offending tooth has the additional benefit of providing a way to drain the infection.
- Antibiotics are of secondary importance in treating a dental infection, and antibiotics are not automatically used to treat dental infections. Antibiotics are used for treating infections involving rapidly progressive swelling, diffuse swelling, a medically compromised child, or an infection that has invaded the extraoral spaces.
- If a child with an infection is dehydrated, IV fluids may need to be administered.
The bottom line is that most, if not all of these types of infections can be avoided by following through on dental treatment recommended by your dentist as quickly as possible.
1Flynn TR: Oral-facial emergencies. The Swollen face. Emergency Clinics of North America. 18(3) August 2000.