It seems like a contradiction to work towards having healthy teeth by removing healthy teeth. But this is precisely the objective of serial extraction, which is a form of preventative dental care for children. The term itself might sound vaguely sinister, but it's a form of early intervention to prevent more serious dental issues. But how can the sacrifice of perfectly healthy teeth improve your child's dental health?
Serial extraction is only necessary in certain cases. If your dentist suspects that your child will experience overcrowding in their mouth as their permanent teeth erupt, they might recommend serial extraction, which make space for the permanent teeth to grow in properly.
A Staggered Strategic Process
The extraction is not random; it is a staggered strategic process, generally occurring over the course of several years. The process is carefully timed to encourage the development of the permanent teeth that were in the process of eruption. The timing also reflects the order in which permanent teeth typically develop.
Making Space for Eruption
Essentially, when your child's permanent incisors are ready to erupt (confirmed with an x-ray), the adjacent deciduous canine teeth will be extracted. This allows their permanent incisors to erupt and assume the correct formation courtesy of the created gap, which also encourages the eruption of the permanent tooth that will replace the extracted deciduous tooth. The process is repeated, targeting specific teeth which will be extracted to allow their soon-to-be neighbor to develop. Multiple extractions will generally be needed over the course of several years.
These multiple extractions promote the healthy development and alignment of your child's permanent teeth and are intended for children who are likely to require orthodontic treatment in the future. Serial extraction can drastically shorten the duration of any orthodontic treatment and in many cases can render it unnecessary.
The Extraction Process
Although the process of extraction is simple, it can be somewhat invasive. However, any trauma is minimized, since your child will receive necessary pain relief. Sedation is also possible in the case of particularly anxious children. The required recovery time will be brief and can be managed with over-the-counter pain relief. Any swelling, bleeding, or general discomfort will quickly subside.
It might seem like an extreme measure, but serial extraction will only be recommended when it's believed that the process will spare your child from future serious dental problems and the need for extensive orthodontic treatment.