A common myth is that primary or baby teeth are not important because they will fall out. While it is true that we do lose those teeth eventually, they do serve essential functions. Losing baby teeth early can result in negative consequences.
Facts about baby teeth:
- They begin to come in around six months of age, with the first tooth usually being a lower front tooth.
- There are 20 teeth in a full primary dentition, and most children will have their full set by age 3.
- Children begin to lose their primary teeth around age 6. They will have a mixed dentition (a mix of adult and baby teeth) until they lose their last baby tooth, usually around age 12.
Why are baby teeth so important?
- They are essential for eating and chewing to ensure proper nutrition for a growing child.
- Primary teeth are essential for normal facial appearance and proper speech development.
- Primary teeth hold the space for adult teeth to erupt. If primary teeth are lost early, and a space maintainer is not put in place, this may cause the remaining teeth to shift and block the normal eruption of the adult teeth. This can lead to crowding and misplacement of adult teeth.
The main reason for the early loss of baby teeth is decay. As soon as the first tooth erupts in the mouth, it is susceptible to cavities. With proper oral care, cavities are mostly preventable.
Caring for baby teeth:
- The Canadian Dental Association recommends that children have their first dental checkup within six months of the first tooth erupting or by age one.
- Before teeth erupt, make a habit of cleaning the child’s gums daily with a clean, wet cloth. As soon as the first tooth erupts start daily brushing. Use an age-appropriate soft-bristled toothbrush.
- Do not put babies to bed with a bottle of milk and do not let milk pool in a sleeping child’s mouth. Milk (including breast milk) contains sugars that can lead to cavities.
- Brushing will need to be monitored and assisted by parents until the child has the dexterity to brush correctly on their own. This is usually when they can write their name (in cursive writing, not printing).
- For children less than three years old, swallowing toothpaste may be an issue. A dental professional can assess the child’s risk of decay, and they may recommend the use of a small amount (no larger than a grain of rice) of fluoridated toothpaste to help prevent cavities.
- For children aged three to six, use a pea-size amount of fluoridated toothpaste when brushing and encourage them to spit out the toothpaste.
- Floss your child’s teeth daily, especially between the back molars where decay is more likely to start.
- Limit sugary drinks and foods. Some tooth-friendly snacks are raw fruit and veggies, cheese, nuts, and seeds.
Signs of decay in baby teeth:
- White spots or lines forming on the teeth could be an early sign of decay.
- Dark areas or visible holes.
- Child complaining of pain in their mouth.
Untreated decay leads to severe pain and infection. If you suspect your child might have a cavity, see your dental professional immediately. Taking good care of their primary set of teeth will help to keep your child healthy and developing properly.