Are baby teeth really all that important for my child?

If you’re a new parent, you are likely busy experiencing all of the developmental milestones that your baby is going through on a regular basis. From holding their head up for the first time, to focusing on items that are further and further away, to smiling, to sleeping more than an hour at a time, and all the way to that first tooth, the milestones are endless, and parents love to track each and every one. But on the topic of that first tooth, many parents should realize how important those baby teeth really are.

Baby teeth play a fundamental role

Those tiny pearly whites play a very important role in childhood development. Not only do they help establish proper nutrition through appropriate chewing, they assist in on-time speech development, and aid in self-esteem later in teen years. If a young child loses a tooth prematurely and due to poor dental care, their chewing will be negatively impacted through a more pronounced and unnecessary stress to the jaw. This in turn can lead to future complications of delayed or altered facial muscle development.

Setting the stage for early and proper dental care is critical

Most parents will see their babies first tooth around six months of age, and will have a full mouth of teeth by age three, but this will vary by child. It will also vary by child on how long those baby teeth will last. But since baby teeth aren’t permanent, it is not surprising that some parents underestimate how vital the health of baby teeth are to the overall health and long-term well-being of the child. Plus, setting the stage early for proper dental care consisting of brushing and flossing will help your child to develop long term healthy habits, and they will also be more likely to pass along those good habits to their children in years to come.

Not only that, but early visits to your dental provider will also set a great example for your children as they will develop a positive and healthy relationship with their dentist, and will work through any fears they may have of the dentist at an earlier age. In fact, most dentists will suggest a visit to their office before the child’s first birthday.

Poor dental care of baby teeth can have serious health consequences

Perhaps most important to understand is that baby or (primary) teeth hold the space for their eventual replacements, the permanent teeth. If those baby teeth aren’t properly cared for, they can develop cavities, just like with permanent teeth. Since your baby or toddler is still developing his or her immune system, an infection caused by a cavity can have serious health consequences, including the spread of infection to other parts of your child’s body.

No parent likes it when their child is sick, and young children are very sensitive to pain and discomfort, especially as they are getting more and more comfortable with their own bodies. If a child develops a tooth abscess, it will likely result in pain and fever, and will make it difficult for your child to chew and swallow properly. Further, this painful experience can have long term effects to your child emotionally, as they may develop a premature fear of their dentist if they have to have an office visit for a tooth extraction. No parent wants to make their baby or toddler go through this experience, just like no adult likes this experience later in life.

How to properly care for baby teeth by age

To reduce your risks of early dental challenges, heed the following suggestions to ensure your child’s teeth stay as healthy as possible:

• Even if your child does not yet have teeth, wipe gums clean on a daily basis with a moistened wash cloth. This will help get your child used to someone in their mouth, and will create familiarity for future teeth brushing.
• Once teeth are present, brush twice daily with a very small concentration of fluoride toothpaste. Most toothpaste manufacturer’s now offer ADA approved toothpastes for children. However, if your child has a tendency to swallow toothpaste, it is best to use a non-fluoride alternative until the child grows out of the habit or understands that it is not good for them to swallow the paste.
• Starting at age three, brush twice a day with an age-appropriate fluoride toothpaste. Our dentist can provide recommendations in the best brands for your child, depending on their specific dental situation. Normally, a pea-sized amount of toothpaste is enough for each brushing.
• When teeth start to touch one another, continue the previously mentioned brushing two times per day, but add flossing to your routine.

How to spot a troubled tooth

In some cases, children can develop infections despite the best intentions of the parents, and even the very best of home dental care. In some cases a weak enamel (born as birth condition) can cause enamel to be less resistant to bacteria. This said, and regardless of family history or background, limiting sugary foods and beverages, and regular blushing and flossing, plus early visits to the dentist followed by visits every six months, will help best set your child up for dental success.

However, be on the lookout for signs or symptoms from your child, that may necessitate a non-routing trip to the dentist. If your child starts to drool more than normal, if they seem fussier than usual and place their hands repeatedly in their mouth, particularly in the same area, or if you smell a foul odor coming from your child’s mouth, loosing weight, this could be a sign of trouble and is worth placing a call to your trusted dentist. You and your dentist will appreciate the opportunity to solve for and treat a problem tooth sooner than later, and you will prevent your child (and yourself) from further unnecessary pain, lack of sleep, etc.