Why Are Baby Teeth Important?

Baby teeth are important in the development of your child’s speech and chewing habits. In addition, they help give the face its shape and hold space for the incoming adult teeth. It’s imperative to help your child take good care of their baby or primary teeth.

Preventing Decay in Baby Teeth

Decayed teeth can cause pain and discomfort to the child. Since tooth decay is caused by bacteria, cavities in baby teeth can affect the adult teeth that are erupting into the child’s mouth.

Decay can occur in baby teeth when a child frequently ingests liquids and foods containing large amounts of sugar.

Some tips to help protect your child’s teeth from cavities would include:

  • Do not let your baby or toddler fall asleep with a bottle containing milk or a sugary liquid.
  • If your baby needs comforting between regular feedings or at bedtime, give him/her a clean pacifier.
  • Do not put a pacifier in your mouth to clean it, before putting it in the child’s mouth.You may pass on decay-causing bacteria to the baby.
  • Do not allow children to frequently sip sugary liquids from bottles or training cups.

How Teeth Develop?

When babies are born, they already have 20 baby teeth (developing under their gums). The baby’s first teeth begin to appear around six months after birth. The upper and lower two front teeth are usually the first to appear.

Most children will have their full set of 20 baby teeth by the time they are three years old. As your child grows, their jaw also grows to make room for the adult teeth. By the age of five or six, the first adult teeth begin to erupt.

When teething, some babies may have sore or tender gums. To make your baby more comfortable, you can:

  • Gently rub their gums with a clean finger, a small cool spoon or a wet gauze pad
  • Give them a clean teething ring to chew on

Do not use gels or creams with local anesthetics (like benzocaine or lidocaine) to soothe sore gums in young children.

Holding Open Space for Permanent Teeth

Sometimes a baby tooth is lost before the adult (permanent) tooth beneath it is ready to erupt. If a baby tooth is lost too early, adjacent teeth can shift into the empty space. This results in a lack of space for proper eruption of the permanent tooth, and the new tooth may be unable to erupt, or may possibly erupt out of position.

If your child loses a tooth too early, the dentist may recommend a space maintainer, depending on the anticipated arrival time of the permanent tooth.

Keeping Your Child’s Teeth Healthy

Begin cleaning your baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth. After feedings, wipe the baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad or wet washcloth. This removes plaque and familiarizes the baby to having his/her mouth cleaned.

As soon as the first tooth appears, gently start brushing your baby’s teeth twice a day. Use a soft-bristled, child-sized toothbrush and a very small amount of toothpaste (size of a grain of rice).

Use a non-fluoridated toothpaste until your child is comfortable and good at expectorating the toothpaste after brushing.

To clean your child’s teeth and gums, you can sit with the child’s head in your lap. Be sure you can see into the child’s mouth easily.

Other American Dental Association recommendations include:

  • Help brush your child’s teeth until they are at least six years old.When they are old enough to brush on their own, watch them to make sure they are not rushing through the job and cleaning the different surfaces of their teeth.
  • Start using floss when your child has two teeth that touch each other.Floss Holders and tools are very helpful in assisting you floss your child’s teeth.
  • Feel free to bring your child with you to your hygiene appointment.Let them see that parents regularly take care of their teeth, and that a cleaning is a simple and easy procedure.
  • Plan a “Well-Baby Checkup” for your child. At this visit, the dentist will check for decay and other potential problems.We will discuss oral hygiene and proper nutrition.There would also be a discussion on supplemental fluoride, depending on the preferences of the parents.
  • Provide your child with a healthy diet including foods from the main food groups.If your child needs a between-meal snack, select healthy foods and snacks.Save the sweets and treats for special occasions and don’t allow them to have daily or constant junk food in their diet.
  • For more information, visit the American Dental Association or Academy of General Dentistry websites.