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.

Because they’re temporary placeholders for permanent teeth, issues with baby teeth may seem like no big deal. But baby teeth serve critical purposes.

Baby teeth are important for childhood development.

Healthy baby teeth help young children speak clearly, express emotions through smiling, and chew properly. Painful cavities or infection make it hard to concentrate in school and affect the ability to learn. Missing or decayed teeth can make it difficult to eat certain foods.

Baby teeth affect permanent teeth.

Baby teeth hold space for adult teeth to grow into. Tooth decay or infection in baby teeth can cause pain and tooth loss. It may also lead to crowding or crookedness in the permanent teeth developing beneath them. That’s why cavities in baby teeth must be treated as important as permanent teeth.

If a baby tooth is knocked out, it can damage its permanent replacement, including issues with alignment, enamel, and color. The younger the child, the higher the risk for damage to the permanent tooth. If your child loses a baby tooth too early – from tooth decay or an accident – ask your dentist if a space maintainer is needed. This plastic or metal device can hold open the space until the permanent tooth is ready to appear.

Caring for baby teeth.

Now that you know the importance of baby teeth, here are some ways to care for them:

1. Make sure your baby’s first dentist visit happens by age 1 or within six months of getting the first tooth, whichever comes first.

2. Avoid transferring cavity-causing bacteria to your baby’s mouth. Don’t clean their pacifier with your mouth or share spoons, straws, or other utensils.

3. Prevent baby bottle tooth decay:

  • Don’t put sweet drinks like juice in your baby’s bottle. 
  • Don’t let your baby sleep with a bottle at naptime or bedtime.  
  • Clean your newborn’s gums with a damp washcloth after feedings. (Even milk contains sugar!)
  • Encourage your child to drink from a sippy cup by his or her first birthday.

4. Brush teeth gently with a child-size toothbrush and a small amount of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice) until age 3. When your child learns to spit toothpaste out, you can increase to a small pea-sized amount from ages 3 to 6.

5. Help your child break the habit of sucking on a pacifier or his or her thumb with positive reinforcement. You can start this process around the time they turn 2. It’s generally easier to break the pacifier habit than it is to keep children from sucking their thumbs.