The importance of baby teeth and the role they play in development
The importance of baby teeth is often underestimated due to the fact that they are eventually lost and replaced by the permanent adult teeth. However, research has shown that when baby teeth are well cared for, better oral health prevails in the adult teeth.
Baby teeth therefore serve a vital role in your child’s long-term dental health. The baby teeth at the front of the mouth (incisors) last until about 6-8 years of age, while those at the back aren’t replaced by their adult successors until the ages of 9-11.
Given the length of time that some of these baby teeth stay in your child’s mouth, the care of them becomes extremely important from the outset.
THE PURPOSE OF BABY TEETH
The importance of baby teeth comes down to the fact that they are the caretakers of space for the developing adult teeth, particularly those back teeth. When well-cared for and present till the right time, baby teeth help to guide strong, adult teeth into the right spaces.
Proper chewing and jaw development
Baby teeth help your child to chew properly in order to digest their food. The chewing process exercises their jaw and facial muscles which assists with their formation.
Promote balanced nutrition
Healthy baby teeth allow children to consume a variety of foods and textures. If chewing is sore due to a cavity or infection, your child may refuse to eat certain harder foods and instead opt for softer, less painful choices.
Space holders for adult teeth
Baby teeth create a pathway for the permanent teeth to push through. If your child loses their baby teeth prematurely, it can sometimes cause crowding in the adult dentition.
WHAT CAUSES A BABY TOOTH TO BE LOST EARLY
There are a number of reasons for baby teeth to be lost early. Some of these are:
- Dental trauma
- Infection from progressive decay or cavities
- Lack of space causing teeth to exfoliate (fall out) earlier than normal
- Certain medical conditions and oral effects of these medical conditions
A pulpotomy procedure is usually performed in a first effort to restore a child’s infected baby teeth. A pulpotomy procedure involves the paediatric dentist opening up your child’s tooth and removing the infected pulp from the crown (the upper part of the tooth).
The pulp is usually treated with a special medication that helps protect the pulp from infection. After this, your child’s tooth will be protected with a filling or a crown (that may be of stainless steel or zirconia).
If your child is suffering from irreversible pulpitis then they may need a pulpectomy procedure. It is a similar procedure to a pulpotomy, the only difference is that all of the pulp is removed, including the roots.
A tooth extraction is a last resort. The reason why tooth removal is an absolute last resort is because of the importance of baby teeth in your child’s development.
Baby teeth can also be lost due to dental trauma. Most of the time tooth injuries are superficial and will heal quickly in a developing healthy child. However, at times dental trauma can be severe, and it could potentially disturb the health of the underlying permanent teeth. In this scenario, extraction may be the best option.
THE PROCESS OF A PERMANENT TOOTH ERUPTING
When your child’s adult teeth are ready to emerge, the roots of the baby tooth dissolve so that the tooth becomes loose and falls out.
So when a baby tooth is lost early, the adult teeth can drift into the empty space and cause crowding of permanent teeth.
HOW SPACE MAINTAINERS HELP IF YOUR CHILD LOSES THEIR BABY TEETH EARLY
If your child loses their teeth prematurely, a space maintainer might be needed to keep the space open until the permanent tooth erupts.
A space maintainer is a small appliance that effectively preserves the gap. Not only do they hold space for the adult teeth to grow, but they also prevent other baby teeth from moving into the open space.
It is important to consult with a paediatric dentist about using a space maintainer anytime your child loses their baby teeth early. Especially in the back of the mouth where there is often less room for permanent teeth to develop and erupt.
If your child loses a baby tooth shortly before a permanent tooth is expected to develop, a space maintainer isn’t necessary. A space maintainer is only required if a permanent tooth is not expected to erupt for some time.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BABY TEETH IS KEY
At Macarthur Paediatric Dentistry, our goal is to help your child achieve and maintain excellent dental hygiene that will last a lifetime. We hope this article has shed some light on the importance of baby teeth.
If your child is overdue for their next appointment give us a call on (02) 9188-0202 or book online here.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics and to help begin the conversation with your children’s dentist. It should not be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your health care professional prior to incorporating this as part of your child’s diet or health regimen.