Early childhood cavities (ECC) is the single most common chronic childhood dental disease. In the treatment of ECC, children are often sedated under general anesthesia. An estimated 100 000 to 250 000 pediatric dental sedations are performed annually in the United States. Many of these procedures are not necessary and are performed by “suspect” children’s dental clinics under the auspices of treating the caries aggressively to stay ahead of the game. As we see below, most times, it is not worth the risk of general anesthesia complications to perform restorative work on a child’s baby teeth.
In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD)1 announced, “Because restorative care to manage ECC often requires the use of sedation and general anesthesia with its associated high costs and possible health risks, and because there is a high recurrence of lesions following the procedures, there now is more emphasis on prevention and arrestment of the disease processes.” The AAPD’s policy statement goes on to enumerate methods of chronic disease management, active surveillance, and interim therapeutic restorations and states, “Non-surgical interventions should be implemented when possible to postpone or reduce the need for [previously accepted] surgical treatment approaches.”
A common rationale for aggressive surgical treatment with sedation or general anesthesia has been the vastly overstated association between tooth decay in primary teeth and subsequent decay in permanent teeth. In fact, this connection is modest, with the relative risk ratios ranging from 1.4 to 2.6.2,3 One reason the association it not strong is that the shedding of decayed primary teeth eliminates sites for bacterial colonization in the mouth and thus reduces risk of caries in the permanent dentition. The loss of primary teeth with replacement by permanent teeth is a normal developmental process that requires no professional intervention.