A common question parents ask dentists is, “Why do I need to fix my baby’s teeth when they are going to fall out anyway?” There are many reasons dentists fix baby teeth, all of which are important to a child’s current and future health.
When do baby teeth fall out?
Normally, the first teeth a child loses are the baby front teeth and this occurs when your child is about six or seven years old. From this age until your child reaches about age 13, the remaining baby teeth will be lost and replaced by adult teeth. The final baby teeth are lost when your baby’s second molars are replaced by the permanent second bicuspids.
There is a pattern of loss that primary teeth follow to ensure the adult teeth come in at the most favorable position. If one or more baby teeth are lost too early, it can delay or dramatically affect the position of the adult teeth and braces may be needed to correct. Sometimes, however, baby teeth do not fall out (exfoliate). This may be a result of several conditions: there may be no adult tooth ready to replace the baby tooth; a misguided successor tooth may be disrupting the process - this often occurs when your child’s teeth are crowded; and lastly, the root of your child’s baby tooth may be attached to the bone itself (this is called ankylosis).
It is important that children have a complete dental examination at an early age to confirm that all their adult teeth are present. If an adult tooth is missing or delayed, you can learn about the options available to ensure the best care of your child’s dental condition.
What should I know about cavities?
Like adult teeth, baby teeth can develop cavities. If cavities are left untreated long enough, it can lead to a life-threatening infection.
For a cavity to develop in children or adults, three factors must be present. First, bacteria called mutans streptococci are needed. These bacteria start to live in your child’s mouth when the first tooth erupts at about six months of age. Before this time, the specific bacteria are not present. The second factor required is a tooth. Lastly, sugars are needed for the bacteria to eat. This includes fruit sugars (fructose), milk sugars (lactose), as well as candy sugars (glucose and sucrose). As we know, the foods enjoyed by most children are the ones that are highest in these sugars. Children who often eat sticky foods containing sugar or who sleep with a bottle (bottle caries) are at the greatest risk for developing cavities. Once these sugars are digested by the bacteria, acids form and cause the decay of the tooth. It is only in the earliest stages of cavity formation that the process can be reversed with fluoride. Once the outer surface of the tooth breaks down the cavity will not ‘go away,’ it will only worsen.
The decay continues until the cavity reaches the nerve (pulp), which is found in all teeth. Once there, the nerve becomes infected and dies. This is of great concern because the infection can spread throughout the body and cause a life-threatening infection. If you notice your child has any swelling in the mouth or difficulty with breathing or swallowing, it is extremely important that you consult a dentist or medical doctor as soon as possible. The swelling may be an indication of a life-threatening infection caused by an advanced dental cavity.
Children who develop cavities experience pain, but they may not have the right words to tell you that. Restless nights, weight loss, and a poor disposition are often indications that your child has a cavity needing treatment. It is important to consult a dentist if you suspect this is the case.
Also, if you notice any discoloration of your child’s teeth, check with your dentist. This may be an indication of a problem with the teeth.
Because all of the factors that cause cavities are present when your child’s first tooth erupts, children should be seen by a dentist at this time or earlier. It is not recommended to wait until a child is three years of age to see the dentist for the first time.
What is the value of baby teeth?
Baby teeth have an important role to help guide adult teeth into their correct positions. When these first teeth are maintained well and kept in their position for the appropriate length of time, adult teeth are able to follow properly.
If a baby tooth is lost prematurely, several problems can occur. These may include:
Baby teeth are necessary to ensure a child’s speech develops properly. Without teeth, your child will be unable to form various sounds such as “th” and “f.”
Finally, baby teeth are needed to give your child a beautiful smile. We all want to feel good about ourselves. Your child’s ability to flash a winning smile from an early age will go a long way to promoting that much-needed self-esteem.
Rory Vinsky, DMD, is a paediatric dental specialist at North Calgary Pediatric Dentistry. For more information, visit northcalgarypediatricdentistry.com.
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