Public Health Dental Assistant
Alberta Health Services
Over the years, I have had parents ask why they need to take care of baby teeth if they are going to fall out anyways. While it is true that eventually baby teeth will be replaced by adult teeth, the baby teeth do play a vital role for several important reasons.
A child’s first set of teeth help our children learn how to eat and speak properly. If a child has cavities they may experience pain or difficulties chewing their food. If their diet does not include a variety of healthy foods, their growth and development may be affected.
Baby teeth reserve space for the adult teeth to come in. Shortly after 4 years of age, the jaw and facial bones begin to grow, creating space between the baby teeth. This growth process helps provide the necessary space for the larger, permanent teeth to come in. Between ages 6 and 12, there is usually a mixture of baby and adult teeth.
Early loss of baby teeth can lead to crooked adult teeth and a greater chance of having braces in order to straighten them out. If a baby tooth cannot be saved, your dentist may recommend a space maintainer (spacer) to hold the space open until the adult tooth comes into place.
The pain caused by cavities and infected teeth (sometimes seen as a pimple on the gums near the tooth), may result in sleep disruption for your child. This can lead to difficulties concentrating in school and cause your child to fall behind.
Self-esteem can be affected as well. Children with missing or decayed teeth may feel bad about the way they look and not want to smile and show their teeth. If teeth are not cared for and the decay becomes severe, children may need to have dental surgery in the hospital. It is important that teeth are repaired or removed before the infection makes your child ill.
But these problems can be avoided. Start by cleaning your baby’s gums daily with a clean soft cloth after feeding. The earlier you start this routine, the easier it will be for both of you. As soon as the first tooth appears, start using a small toothbrush. Try to make it a positive experience by singing a song or nursery rhyme.
Regularly look for any signs of decay by ‘lifting the lip’ once a month. If you see white, chalky marks along the gum line, this could mean the beginning of tooth decay. Brown areas or decay spots along the gum line also indicate the need to be seen by a dental professional.
Good oral hygiene with twice daily brushing and daily flossing (including your own), avoiding sugary foods and drinks and keeping regular dental check-ups starting at age 1 will help give your child’s teeth the best care possible.
For more information on this and other health related topics, visit www.ahs.ca or www.MyHealthAlberta.ca. Health advice and guidance is also available 24/7 by calling Healthlink at 811.