Temporary baby teeth have a long-lasting effect
Baby teeth aren’t meant to be permanent. They emerge from about the time a child is 6 months old until around their third birthday. But they already start to fall out around age 6.1
Because they’re temporary placeholders for permanent teeth, issues with baby teeth may seem like no big deal. But baby teeth actually serve critical purposes.
Baby teeth are important for childhood development.2
- Healthy baby teeth help young children speak clearly.
- They also help children express emotions through smiling.
- Baby teeth allow children to chew properly. Decayed or missing teeth can make it difficult to eat certain foods.
- Tooth decay can cause pain and affect a child’s ability to concentrate and learn in the classroom.
They have an effect on permanent teeth.
- Baby teeth create space for adult teeth to grow.3
- Tooth decay or infection in baby teeth can cause pain and tooth loss. It may lead to crowding or crookedness in the permanent teeth developing beneath them. Cavities in baby teeth must be treated with the same importance as permanent teeth.4
- If a baby tooth is knocked out, it can cause damage to its permanent replacement, including issues with alignment, enamel and color. The younger the child, the higher the risk for damage to the permanent tooth.5
- If your child loses a baby tooth early, ask your dentist about a space maintainer — a plastic or metal device that holds open the space left by the lost tooth.6
Caring for baby teeth.
- Make sure your baby’s first dentist visit happens within six months of getting the first tooth and no later than the first birthday.7
- Avoid transferring cavity-causing bacteria to a baby’s mouth. Don’t share spoons, straws or other utensils or clean their pacifier with your mouth.8
- Prevent baby bottle tooth decay by:9
- Not putting sweet drinks like juice in your baby’s bottle.
- Not letting your baby sleep with a bottle at naptime or bedtime.
- Cleaning a newborn’s gums with a damp washcloth after feeding because even milk contains sugar. Once teeth emerge, use a soft toothbrush and water to brush a baby’s teeth and gums.
- It’s normal for children to suck their thumbs or pacifiers, but it’s easier to break the pacifier habit.
- If thumb sucking continues as permanent teeth emerge, it can cause problems with speech and alignment of the teeth and jaws.6,1
- Use positive reinforcement to help your child avoid thumb sucking. Cover the thumb with a bandage as a reminder. Take the thumb out of their mouth when they’re asleep.
- Positive reinforcement also helps wean children from a pacifier. Start when they turn 2.
By establishing good oral health habits early, including brushing twice and flossing once daily and visiting the dentist regularly, you can help your child have a lifetime of healthy smiles.