The change from primary teeth to permanent is an announcement to the world that a boy or girl is "growing up." "Growing up," though, is still not "grown"—the new teeth are still in a period of development that can affect how we treat them if they're injured or diseased.
While a new tooth erupts with all its anatomical layers, the middle dentin is somewhat thinner than it will be after it matures. The pulp, the tooth's innermost layer, produces new dentin and gradually increases the dentin layer during this early development period. While the pulp continues to produce dentin over a tooth's lifetime, most of it occurs in these early years.
To prevent or stop any infection, we would normally perform a root canal treatment in which we remove the pulp tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals. This poses no real issue in an older tooth with mature dentin. Removing the pulp from an immature tooth, though, could interrupt dentin development and interfere with the tooth's root growth. Besides a higher risk of discoloration, the tooth could become more brittle and prone to fracture.
That's why we place a high priority on preserving a younger tooth's pulp. Rather than a root canal treatment, we may treat it instead with one of a number of modified techniques that interact less with the pulp. Which of these we use will depend on the extent of the pulp's involvement with the injury or disease.
If it's unexposed, we may use a procedure called indirect pulp therapy, where we remove most of the tooth's damaged dentin but leave some of the harder portion intact next to the pulp to avoid exposure. If, though, some but not all of the pulp is damaged, we may perform a pulpotomy: here we remove the damaged pulp tissue while leaving the healthier portion intact. We may then apply a stimulant substance to encourage more dentin production to seal the exposure.
These and other techniques can help repair an injured young tooth while preserving most or all of its vital pulp. Although we can't always use them, when we can they could give the tooth its best chance for a full life.
If you would like more information on caring for your child's teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Saving New Permanent Teeth after Injury.”