Baby Teeth Breakdown
As Williamsburg, DUMBO and Park Slope pediatric dentists, we keep little one’s baby teeth (and permanent teeth) healthy. Of course, the primary teeth will fall out eventually and give way to grown-up teeth. Given that, are baby teeth important? After all, they’re not sticking around. The answer is, yes. The importance of primary teeth is often underestimated but they serve so many essential roles and play a big part in your kiddo’s oral health and development.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- The basics of baby teeth
- The functions of primary teeth
- Keeping baby teeth healthy
Primary teeth, baby teeth, deciduous teeth, milk teeth…phew! A child’s first pearly whites sure have a lot of names. Whatever you choose to call them, the primary teeth form in the womb, and when a baby is born, these teeth are already waiting under the gums.
A child’s first baby tooth usually erupts between six and 10 months of age, and between 25 and 33 months, your tiny tot will likely have a full set of primary teeth. When do kids start to lose baby teeth? It can vary, but teeth typically begin falling out around the age of six or seven, and by 12 years old, most kids will have all of their adult teeth, except for the wisdom teeth. The fact that they aren’t in your child’s mouth for very long in the grand scheme of things doesn’t diminish the importance of baby teeth.
Functions of Primary Teeth
They Save Space for the Permanent Teeth
One of the most crucial functions of primary teeth is to serve as placeholders for the permanent teeth. They save specific spots for their grown-up counterparts and act as a guide for them to come in properly. If bad baby teeth, such as those that are decayed or infected, need to be extracted or primary teeth are knocked out because of an injury, it leaves an opening. The other teeth have a natural tendency to shift to fill in this space.
Ultimately, this can result in crowding and misalignment of the teeth and jaws and, in extreme cases, impacted permanent teeth that are blocked from erupting partially or entirely. This may in turn lead to the need for extensive orthodontic treatment. While a lot of kids end up wearing braces, if the baby teeth fall out too soon, it can make the process more time consuming and costly.
Baby Teeth Encourage Proper Development
The baby teeth encourage jaw, muscle and facial development. It makes sense because your child’s oral and facial structures, and even their airway, are in a period of rapid development while their baby teeth are in place. Plus, alveolar bone growth (the bone that supports the teeth) is dependent on the presence of teeth to stimulate it.
A study published in the journal Sleep and Breathing found that missing teeth in early childhood, either from a congenital condition or extractions, such as in the case of bad baby teeth that are severely decayed, can interfere with facial development and lead to a narrow upper airway and, eventually, obstructive sleep apnea.
They’re Chewing Machines
Being able to chew correctly really goes a long way in supporting good nutrition. Missing teeth, decay, discomfort or pain can cause kids to limit what they eat and stick to soft foods that don’t require chewing. This can make them miss out on the vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need to grow big and strong.
Primary Teeth Help With Speech
Speech is one of the main ways we communicate, and learning to communicate is an enormous part of kids’ social and cognitive development. We use our teeth to form certain sounds. For example, properly articulating an “f” sound involves the top teeth coming into contact with the bottom lip. Strident sounds (think “shoe,” “sew” and “zoo”) rely on friction that comes from air hitting the teeth.
When the primary teeth have set up shop in a child’s mouth, they can learn to speak correctly and articulate clearly. Then, once the baby teeth fall out, if their articulation does change (a lisp or hissing sound is pretty common when the front teeth fall out), it’s temporary and doesn’t become an ingrained habit. When the permanent teeth come in, they should go right back to their normal speech patterns. If they were never able to enunciate properly, it can be harder to correct the problem.
A Healthy Smile Boosts Self-Esteem
Having a bright, healthy smile gives kids confidence and makes them feel good about themselves. This is really important during the school-aged years when they’re especially vulnerable to teasing and bullying. Additionally, tooth pain or insecurities can affect their concentration and distract from schoolwork.
Keeping Baby Teeth Healthy
In a previous blog post, we covered everything you need to know about brushing baby’s teeth. Brushing twice a day, starting as soon as the first tooth erupts, using a fluoride toothpaste, flossing once daily and eating a well-rounded diet are key ways to keep primary teeth healthy.
For kids older than six who are good at spitting out toothpaste, you can also consider adding a children’s mouthwash to the mix for added protection. If you do notice an issue, it’s important to see a pediatric dentist right away. The earlier we can treat bad baby teeth with issues like cavities, the less invasive the treatment will be and the more of the tooth’s natural structure we can preserve.
If your child’s baby tooth is knocked out, seek emergency dental care. A tooth can often be re-implanted within an hour of the accident. If the tooth can’t be saved, we evaluate the patient and, depending on their age and where they’re at in their oral development, we sometimes use a simple appliance called a dental space maintainer. A dental space maintainer is exactly what it sounds like. It maintains space where the tooth was lost so the permanent tooth has room to come in correctly.
Another super important step for healthy primary teeth is regular dental visits. If your child is in need of a pediatric dentist in DUMBO, Park Slope or Williamsburg, Brooklyn, book an appointment at Bitesize Pediatric Dentistry today. We’ll keep their baby teeth healthy and strong!