What Are Alternatives to Filling Cavities in Baby Teeth?

Smiling little boy in a dental chair showing his thumb up.

Primary or baby teeth are very susceptible to cavities or tooth decay. Most kids get cavities in their first teeth and dentists will often recommend drilling and filling cavities in baby teeth. Are there alternatives to filling cavities in baby teeth? Here is what you need to know about how to treat cavities in baby teeth.

Why Are Cavities in Baby Teeth So Common?


Primary or baby teeth
only exist for 6-10 years in most cases. They begin erupting in the first year of a child’s life and the last primary molars are gone by about age 10-12. During their short lifetime, these teeth play an important role in development, but they are also prone to tooth decay or cavities.

The baby teeth do not have the same resiliency of adult teeth. The enamel is thin and soft in comparison to the permanent teeth. This makes it easier for cavities to form, which can quickly impact the dentin and pulp of the tooth. Other reasons baby teeth are susceptible to cavities include:

  • Poor oral hygiene or dental habits
  • Diet high in carbohydrates and sugars
  • Not enough fluoride
  • Oral habits – bottles, pacifiers and thumb sucking can lead to more decay

The primary teeth are a breeding ground for bacteria, plaque and decay, and it can be hard to prevent cavities from forming. Once a cavity forms, some form of dental treatment is needed to protect the tooth from infection and prevent pain for the child.

How to Treat Cavities in Baby Teeth

Primary teeth are important for chewing and speech development in children. They are also “place holders” for the permanent teeth. If a baby tooth has a cavity, it needs treatment to keep it healthy and avoid loss of these vital baby teeth.

Drilling and filling are the most common treatments for cavities in both baby and adult teeth. Amalgam or metal fillings have been used for many decades for cavity treatment, but many parents are opposed to adding fillings that contain mercury to their child’s teeth.

How Long Does a Filling Take to Complete?

Cavities or caries are small pockets of tooth decay. Children are especially prone to cavities, but anyone can experience tooth decay. To stop the damage to the...Read More

Composite fillings are an alternative to filling cavities in baby teeth with amalgam. Composite fillings do not contain mercury – they are made from a composite resin that contains plastics and ceramics. While composite fillings are more common for adult teeth, they can be used to repair baby teeth. Some benefits include:

  • Composite fillings are white or tooth colored
  • No metal in the resin
  • Some composite fillings can be used without drilling

If parents want an alternative to using any type of drilling and filling treatment for baby teeth, there are other options.

Alternatives to Drilling and Filling Cavities in Baby Teeth

There are a few options if you want alternatives to filling cavities in baby teeth. The best solution is to prevent cavities from occurring in the first place. Daily brushing and flossing, along with routine dental cleanings, can help prevent cavities. Dental sealants and fluoride treatments can also prevent cavities.

Silver Diamine Fluoride Treatment
While prevention is wonderful, it is not always possible. Once a cavity occurs, treatment is needed. One alternative to drilling and filling a baby tooth with a cavity is silver diamine fluoride treatment. This is a treatment that can be used when a cavity is detected on the surface of the tooth.
Silver diamine fluoride treatment is non-invasive and does not require drilling. This liquid contains fluoride, which can stop the decay and prevent further decay from occurring. Plus, the silver is anti-microbial, and it helps strengthen the tooth to protect it from future damage.
Dental Crowns
If there is a substantial cavity, the tooth may be in jeopardy of loss. An alternative to drilling and filling a large cavity is to remove the decayed portion of the tooth and cover it with a dental crown. This can save the tooth and also protect it from further decay and damage while preserving function.
Unlike adult teeth that are often crowned with porcelain, ceramics or even gold, stainless crowns are common for baby teeth. While they are silver in color, they will only be in place for a few years. Stainless steel crowns are less expensive but can adequately protect a baby tooth until it falls out naturally.
Tooth Extraction
While not usually recommended, pulling or removing a baby tooth is a possible alternative to filling cavities in baby teeth. However, unless it is about to fall out on its own, removing a baby tooth too soon can negatively impact permanent tooth alignment, speech and other oral function.

Smiling little girl showing her teeth.
Prevention is always the best solution for cavities in baby teeth. Make sure your child is seeing a dentist by their first birthday and receiving checkups and cleanings to protect their primary and permanent teeth. If a tooth decay does form, ask your dentist about the best treatments for cavities in baby teeth.