Pediatric DentistryThe importance of baby teeth lies chiefly in the fact that they reserve space in your little one’s mouth for their adult teeth to emerge. Baby teeth – aka primary teeth or milk teeth – also enable your child to speak properly and eat well.

For these reasons, baby teeth require the same level of care and attention as permanent teeth, and any problems need to be identified and corrected.

A baby’s 20 milk teeth are present in the jaw at birth. Teething generally begins when a baby is around six months old as the four front teeth start to appear. However, some infants don’t get their first tooth until 12 months or later.

Teething can continue for more than 12 months. When teething, babies may get tender or sore gums, which can be soothed by gently rubbing them with a clean finger or dampened gauze pad.

All the baby teeth are typically in place by the age of three, although the development of primary teeth varies from child to child. Children usually have most of their adult teeth by the time they’re 13.

If a baby tooth is lost too soon – through decay or other factors – adult teeth that have already emerged can shift into the space, making it difficult for other permanent teeth to erupt through the gums and resulting in crooked teeth or crowding.

When Should I Start Taking My Child to the Dentist?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and the American Dental Association (ADA) advise parents to take their little one for their first dental visit soon after the first tooth appears or by the age of 12 months.

Apart from looking for cavities and other problems, your child’s dentist can advise you on how to clean your infant’s teeth properly and how to deal with potentially harmful habits such as prolonged thumb-sucking.

Other negative oral habits include chewing on pens and pencils, which can result in damaged or badly spaced teeth. Hard objects like ice can break teeth and are also a choking hazard for young children.

Tooth Decay is Prevalent Among Children

Your child’s temporary teeth need constant care from the time they begin to emerge. Cavities can result in gum inflammation and damage the underlying adult tooth.

Tooth decay is common in children up to four years old. Factors that contribute to tooth decay in early childhood include:

  • Sustained use of a baby bottle containing inappropriate substances – particularly at bed time.
  • A sugar-rich diet.
  • Inadequate brushing and flossing.

Some dental professionals recommend cleaning your infant’s teeth and gums twice a day with a smear of toothpaste and a soft cloth or baby toothbrush.

However, there is a school of thought that toothpaste – fluoride or otherwise – is not necessary initially to clean a baby’s teeth and that you can just use a wet cloth or brush after feeds. A pediatric dentist will be able to advise you on this matter.

Parents are also advised against putting their baby to bed with a bottle of anything but water. Milk, juice, and formula can cause tooth decay when left in a sleeping baby’s mouth.

Cavities are also prevalent among older children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tooth decay affects 20 percent of youngsters aged five to 11.

Dentists generally advise parents to brush their child's teeth for them until around the age of six. The American Dental Association recommends supervision of a child’s tooth brushing until about the age of eight.

Laying the Foundation for Good Oral Hygiene

A regular routine of brushing will lay the foundation for good oral hygiene for the future so it’s crucial to show your children how to brush their teeth correctly.

Brushing should be carried out for at least two minutes twice a day, ideally in the morning and at bed time. This will help to remove food debris and bacterial plaque that can damage gums and teeth.

Encouraging children to floss is as important as getting them to brush their teeth regularly. Brushing by itself won’t get rid of food particles that become lodged between teeth. You can start to teach your youngster how to floss for themselves when they’re about 10. Give them floss that’s flexible and soft, so it’s comfortable on their gums.

Toothpaste and flossing products come in an assortment of fun flavors for kids, so let your child choose one they particularly like.

If plaque is allowed to build up in your child’s mouth, it can calcify into tartar, which can only be removed by a dental professional.

Some youngsters’ mouths are more sensitive than others, which can make brushing unpleasant. In these cases, desensitizing toothpastes are available but consult a dentist before allowing your child to use one of these toothpastes, particularly if they’re under 12.

The Crucial Role of Baby Teeth

While baby teeth are temporary, they play an important role in paving the way for their permanent counterparts, maintaining a natural facial appearance and developing clear speech.

Your child’s milk teeth are also important for nutrition. If baby teeth are decayed or missing, your little one will find it difficult to chew their food, causing them to reject certain foods that are good for them.

Once you’ve got your youngster into good toothbrushing habits, replace their toothbrush every three months and make sure they see a dentist regularly for check-ups, which will detect any potential problems before they become serious. Six-monthly check-ups are usually recommended but your child’s dentist will tell you how often their teeth should be examined, based on their individual oral health.

Kids’ primary teeth are prone to the same problems as permanent adult teeth, so try to cut back on their intake of sugary drinks and starchy snacks.

Because your youngster’s baby teeth require the same level of care as adult teeth, it’s prudent to find an experienced pediatric dentist. An adult-oriented practice may make your child nervous, while a pediatric dental office will be more child-friendly.

An experienced pediatric dental practice will be able to give you comprehensive advice on the importance of baby teeth and on preventative dental care for your children.