By the time a baby is born, their first set of teeth is already developed and present in the jaw. The first of those teeth begin to show at around six months, and most children have all of their twenty primary teeth by the time they reach three years old. Many people mistakenly believe these teeth aren’t particularly important in comparison to the second set of adult teeth that begin to erupt at around six to seven years of age—but in fact, baby teeth are important for several developmental reasons.
It’s true that baby teeth fall out and are replaced by adult teeth, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not just as important to take good care of that first set. Baby teeth have several important functions for a growing child. They’re essential for learning how to eat solid foods, which also means they’re important for nutrition and health. As well as this, baby teeth are essential for the development of speech, because they facilitate proper tongue positioning and pronunciation.
Perhaps the most important reason, however, is that baby teeth serve as a guide for the positioning of the adult teeth that take their place. If a baby tooth is lost before the adult tooth beneath it is ready to emerge, that adult tooth may erupt in a misaligned position. This can have significant follow-on effects, since one badly-aligned tooth can cause alignment problems in the teeth that erupt beside it. The more misaligned teeth there are in the mouth, the more likely the child is to have tooth-crowding, bite problems, or other issues as they grow up, and the more likely they are to need braces or other dental work as teenagers or adults.
Taking Care of Baby Teeth
Fortunately, it’s easy to take good care of a young child’s baby teeth, and to teach them how to take care of their own teeth as they get older. Good tooth care starts before the first baby teeth even erupt, with a daily gentle wiping of an infant’s gums with clean, moist gauze. Once the first teeth begin to show you can brush them with a very small amount of fluoride-free toothpaste, while continuing to use gauze on the gums.
Once a child is old enough to brush their own teeth, they can use a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. As their adult teeth start to grow in, they’ll be old enough to use an adult-sized amount of toothpaste, and should be able to follow a good oral hygiene routine that includes daily flossing and twice-daily brushing.
James Mitchell DDS welcomes questions and provides guidance for primary teeth. Preventative measures make a difference to long-term oral health!