The Importance of Baby Teeth

The Importance of Baby Teeth

by Kristina Mackie, DDS
Loretto Family Dentistry, PLLC

I’ve been asked innumerable times in my career when detecting decay or problems in primary teeth (baby teeth) why treatment is needed if the teeth are “just going to fall out anyway.” There is not just one good answer, but several! First, primary teeth are important placeholders for adult teeth. When a primary tooth is lost prematurely, the adjacent teeth drift into the space leaving little to no room for the adult tooth to erupt. The adult tooth may become impacted or displaced. To correct these problems, orthodontic treatment and sometimes oral surgery are required. Secondly, missing teeth lead to difficulties with speech and chewing. Any adult who has experienced a missing tooth is aware that chewing is difficult and sometimes food has to be shifted to the other side of the mouth. There is also more frequent accidental biting of the tongue or cheek while eating or speaking because of the gap. Thirdly, all teeth are important for the development of the jaws and soft tissues of the mouth. There is a fine balance between the teeth, cheeks, tongue, and palate. Any disruption in this balance can lead to long term problems. Lastly, a child’s self confidence can be negatively impacted when they have missing teeth. Society places great emphasis on a beautiful, healthy smile and children are no exception.

Despite these points, there are times when extracting a primary tooth is necessary. Unlike an adult tooth infection, an infected primary tooth cannot be treated and saved. The tooth requires extraction however, a space maintainer may be placed to hold the position open until the adult tooth erupts. I will also extract a problematic primary tooth in cases where it’s close exfoliating and the extraction will not disrupt the adult tooth replacing it.

It is important for children to see their dentist every 6 months and practice good oral hygiene at home with twice daily brushing, once daily flossing, and supplementation with fluoride as recommended. The ADA recommends children have their first dental checkup by the time their first tooth comes in or by their first birthday. Early intervention is always key!

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