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Do Baby Teeth Really Matter?

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Little girl with mouth open in the course of cavity treatment sitting on dental chair. Mother with her kid in stomatology clinic for teeth examine using modern instruments.

Baby teeth, or primary teeth, are the first set of teeth that appear in the first few years of a child’s life. Although a baby isn’t born chewing, they have 20 primary teeth within the jaw. The teeth slowly emerge between 6 months to 3 years of age to form a complete set of baby teeth. However, they are not permanent, begging the question, do baby teeth really matter?

A baby has four central incisors, lateral incisors, second molars, first molars and canines. Although it’s hard to tell, baby teeth are slightly different from permanent teeth. They have a whiter appearance and a smoother bottom edge. Permanent teeth have jagged edges called mamelons that help in the eruption of the teeth through the gum.

Despite being temporary, baby teeth play an essential role in a child’s life.

Gum protection

As a baby weans off milk and starts chewing different types of food, the gum can get traumatic injuries. Baby teeth ensure the gum surfaces are safe. Moreover, the teeth prevent infections by minimising the nidus for bacterial growth.

Space saver

Baby teeth form a blueprint for permanent teeth. They maintain appropriate spacing between themselves, ensuring each permanent substitute grows in the correct position.

As the permanent tooth reaches the gum’s surface during tooth eruption, the baby tooth’s roots disintegrate, and it loosens. Eventually, these teeth fall out in order to make room for the adult ones.

The timing of removal is crucial. If a baby tooth falls too early, the spacing might be amiss. Some dentists use dental space maintainer devices in case of early loss of baby teeth. If a baby tooth doesn’t fall out in time, the permanent tooth could erupt at a misaligned position.

The high prevalence of tooth misalignment in pediatric dentistry is partly explained by early or late tooth loss.

Template for oral care

Baby teeth allow children to develop good habits that maintain oral hygiene. They offer the perfect training ground for tooth brushing, consumption of healthy food, and other health-promoting routines.

Aside from function, there are several essential things you should know about baby teeth.

Marker of health status

Baby teeth offer a good indicator of the health status of a child. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Delayed teething

 Teething marks the eruption of baby teeth through the gum line. It usually occurs between the 4th month and the 15th month of life. Teething is classed as delayed if they have not appeared by the time a child is 18 months old.

Delayed teething can result from poor nutrition, hormonal dysfunction, immune compromise, tooth impaction, and fibrosis.

Some of the complications associated with late teething include deformed jawbones, crooked teeth, hyperdontia (possessing extra teeth), cyst formation and delayed milestones.

  • Brittle teeth

Although baby teeth are temporary, they aren’t brittle. Brittle teeth with numerous cavities are a sign of a bigger problem. They are usually caused by either poor oral care or nutritional deficiency.

Although overall malnutrition is very serious and worth investigating, vitamin D and calcium deficiency directly affect teeth and other bones.

  • Suspicious Oral injuries

Some injuries to baby teeth and the surrounding tissues raise the suspicion of child abuse. Although this isn’t common, it’s something worth knowing if your child is under the care of another person.

Since it’s clear that baby teeth are essential, you should book a baby’s first dental appointment 6 months after the first tooth appears or sooner if other oral symptoms arise.

Don’t let the temporary nature of baby teeth make you blind to their importance. Keep them clean and looked after, and your child will thank you later in life!