Baby teeth (or primary teeth) are temporary, so why do we care about them? Many parents overlook the importance of baby teeth and don’t realize they serve functions other than biting and chewing. Several important functions include:
- They reserve space for permanent teeth and help guide them into position.
- Help make normal speech possible.
- Aid in normal development of jaw bones and facial muscles.
- Add to an attractive appearance.
- They establish good brushing/flossing habits.
Baby teeth typically begin to appear when a child is between age six months and one year. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that a dentist examine a child within six months after the first tooth comes in and no later than the first birthday. A dental visit at an early age is a “well baby checkup” for the teeth.
Besides checking for tooth decay and other problems, the dentist can show you how to clean the child’s teeth properly and how to evaluate any potentially bad habits such as thumbsucking. Most children have a full set of 20 baby teeth by the time they are three years old.
As soon as teeth appear in the mouth, tooth decay can occur. Therefore, when your child’s teeth begin to erupt, brush them gently with a child’s size toothbrush and water. Brush the teeth of children over age two with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Be sure they spit out the toothpaste and rinse with water. (Ask your child’s dentist or physician if you are considering using fluoride toothpaste before age two.)
Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottle before going to bed. If you use a pacifier, use a clean one. Never dip a pacifier in sugar or honey before giving it to a baby. (Ask your child’s physician or dentist to recommend a type of pacifier.)
Baby teeth reserve space for permanent teeth and help guide them into position. The teeth next to a missing tooth may drift into the empty space. Because these teeth occupy the space meant for another tooth, their permanent replacements will come in the wrong position. The dentist may provide your child with a space maintainer if a baby tooth is lost too soon. But it is preferable to take early preventive measures so your child can keep all of their baby teeth until they are ready to fall out.
Your baby’s teeth are a vital aid to speech. Without healthy, reasonably well-aligned teeth, your baby may have difficulty forming words and speaking clearly.
Like muscles in other parts of the body, your baby’s face and jaw muscles need exercise to help them develop; without well-developed jaw muscles, your baby’s jawbones may not develop properly. Sucking provides exercise for your baby’s jaw, cheek, and tongue muscles. When your baby is old enough for solid foods, chewing also exercises these muscles. This exercise is necessary for these structures to develop enough for your baby’s teeth to come in properly.
Your child’s baby teeth must last five to 10 years or longer. As a permanent tooth reaches the stage of development when it is ready to erupt (emerge through the gum), the roots of the baby tooth it will replace begin to resorb (break down and dissolve). Gradually, the permanent tooth pushes the baby tooth out and takes its place. If a baby tooth is lost too soon, the permanent tooth has no guide or space to occupy.
By: Dr. Michael Harms