What Happens When a Small Child Needs to See an Emergency Dentist?

I was reading an article about a little girl who needed to have 16 teeth pulled. Granted, this was in the UK, but I’m sure the same thing happens here from time to time. How common of a problem is this and could the girl’s dental emergency have been prevented? Shouldn’t the mother have noticed something was wrong or was the decay somehow hidden? Do we know what kind of long-term effect this will have on her? What happens in the US when a child needs to see an emergency dentist? Is it the same protocol? Sorry for all the questions, but I saw the article and I was absolutely astounded. I don’t see how this could happen in civilized society. –Ted

Dear Ted,
It sounds like what you’re referring to was covered in an article in The Daily Mail. In this situation a four-year-old girl was taken to the dentist after exhibiting symptoms of pain. The article says that:

  • The girl had trouble eating. It sometimes took hours for her to finish breakfast.
  • She was quiet and withdrawn.
  • The mother allowed her child to continually have a bottle around-the-clock until age three.

Because we don’t have a complete account of her records, we have to rely on what the article states. There are actually some similarities between this incident and Finley Boyle’s, an American girl whose story ended much more tragically. Finley was only three, but both girls had severe dental decay as a result of “baby bottle rot.” This occurs when parents give their babies a bottle to sleep with and the milk or juice pools inside the mouth for hours at a time. It can also happen when bottles are used throughout the day. In either case, the teeth become severely decayed and the only solution eventually becomes extractions.

A Sun Sentinel article says 5-10% of infants and preschoolers suffer from decay caused by baby bottles. Unfortunately, little kids don’t always understand why they hurt or express themselves well, so parents have to be diligent and watch for signs that the child has trouble eating or is behaving differently. In the US, kids are also advised to see a dentist as soon as their teeth start to come in, so between vigilant parenting and observation by a doctor, these situations don’t usually result in a trip to an emergency dentist. Parents who see symptoms in their children can schedule with a general, pediatric, or emergency dentist, but the key to a positive resolution is always swift treatment.

Prognosis depends on the extent of the decay. It’s possible in this situation that decay spread to her adult teeth, but not likely at this age. She’ll probably need a period of recovery and additional treatments as the years pass to help ensure the adult teeth come in properly and are healthy. Hopefully, by the time she completes adolescence, her oral health concerns will be fairly standard.

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