Are baby teeth important?
Baby teeth, milk teeth, deciduous teeth, primary teeth, it doesn’t matter what we call them but they are more important than you might think. It is a common misconception that they are “only baby teeth” and they are going to fall out anyway, so why bother looking after them or fixing them if they get decay. This is FALSE and this blog will explain just how important the role played by baby teeth is.
The importance of baby teeth is often overlooked by many parents as they are unaware that the function of baby teeth goes far beyond biting and chewing, baby teeth have several important functions including: appearance, reserving spaces for permanent teeth and helping guide them into position, assisting with normal speech patterns, helping with facial muscle and jaw bone development and establishing good brushing and flossing habits.
When do baby teeth appear?
Baby teeth start to appear between 6 months and one year. Australian Dental Association recommends a baby has their first dental visit 6 months after the first tooth erupts or no later than the child’s first birthday. At the first dental visit the teeth are checked and the child is slowly introduced to the new dental clinic environment in a fun way. Apart from just checking the teeth for decay and other problems we can show you how to brush and care for your babies teeth as well as look for and educate parents regarding problematic habits such as thumb or finger sucking. By the time the third birthday comes around most children have a full set of 20 baby teeth that need looking after.
Tooth decay can occur as soon as the teeth appear in the mouth, therefore, when your child’s teeth first erupt it is a good time to start healthy habits by brushing them gently with a child’s size tooth brush and water. Over 2 years old it is recommended that a pea size amount of fluoride toothpaste is used making sure that they spit the toothpaste out and have a rinse with water. The supermarket has an array of different types of toothpastes which can be overwhelming at the start. Look for the appropriate age suggestions on the packaging to ensure there is the correct amount of fluoride. I suggest to parents that they continue to brush their child’s teeth till they start prep and continue to supervise till age 8.
Bottles at bedtime and dummies
Babies should never be put to bed with a bottle as the teeth will be bathed in sweet liquid for hours. Finish the feed either bottle or breast before bedtime and brush the teeth as usual or gently wipe over the teeth with a soft clean cloth to remove the milk residue. Dummies or pacifiers can be a curse or a blessing however you look at them never dip it into honey or sweet liquid before giving it to baby. Dummies and digit sucking can cause deformation of the teeth and jaws so should be limited in the time they are in the mouth.
Baby teeth reserve space for permanent teeth and guide them into position. If teeth are lost prematurely due to decay the teeth next to the missing tooth can drift into the empty space and crowding or misaligned teeth can occur as a result. A space maintainer can be fitted if the baby tooth is lost too soon to keep the space open for the adult tooth to erupt but it is preferable to take early measures with good oral hygiene to prevent these types of occurrences.
Speech and teeth
Teeth are vital to aid correct speech. Healthy well aligned teeth are necessary and your child is at risk of speech difficulties, difficulty forming words and not speaking clearly without them.
Chewing muscles and facial development
We all know the saying use it or lose it, well like muscles in other parts of the body your babies face and jaw muscles need exercise too for development. Without well developed jaw muscles a child jaw bone may not develop properly. Sucking provides exercise for babies jaw, cheeks and tongue muscles and when your baby is old enough, eating solid food and chewing also exercises these muscles. These everyday activities are necessary for the facial structures to develop enough for baby’s teeth to come in.
How long will baby teeth be there anyway?
Baby teeth last from five to ten years or longer depending on the type of tooth and the eruption schedule of the individual child. As permanent teeth reach eruption stage the roots of the baby tooth begin to resorb or dissolve. Gradually the adult tooth pushes the baby tooth out and takes its place in the mouth. If the baby tooth is lost too soon the permanent tooth has no guide or space to occupy. This may result in orthodontic issues long term.
So from now on if you hear a parent say that they are only baby teeth and they are less valuable than adult teeth you can wow them with your wisdom and educate them on how important baby teeth actually are!
By Kylie Birch
Oral Health Therapist