Are Baby Teeth Really That Important?


We hear this question a lot.  Some parents tend to be less concerned about a child’s baby teeth because they know these teeth will eventually fall out.  This blog will explore all of the reasons baby teeth DO matter and need to be healthy for the years they are in your child’s mouth.

What are Baby Teeth?

Also called primary teeth, baby teeth are the first set of teeth a child gets in his or her mouth.  Other names for baby teeth include deciduous teeth and milk teeth.  There are 20 baby teeth in all, and they enter the mouth from age 6 months through 2 years.

Baby teeth are fully developed teeth, with the same physical makeup as permanent teeth.  They have nerves and blood vessels on the inside, and they are covered in enamel.

Baby teeth can feel pain, they can get cavities, and they show damage from teeth grinding.

Why Do Humans Have Baby Teeth?

It is all about growth.  A baby’s jaws are too small to hold the full set of permanent teeth.  This initial set of teeth allows a baby to begin chewing and speaking as the jaw continues to grow.

Without baby teeth, a child would not be able to obtain the nutrition necessary for his or her overall growth.  Baby teeth also help in guiding the growth of the jaws.

What are the Purposes of Baby Teeth?

Baby teeth are important for all of the following reasons. Even just one of these functions is reason enough to take great care of your child’s baby teeth.

  • Chewing – A child can only live on milk, formula, and baby food for so long. In order to receive the proper nutrition, he or she has to begin eating solid foods.  This is only possible with healthy teeth to chew those foods.
  • Speaking – Many of the letter sounds required for speaking involve interactions between the tongue, lips and teeth. Without teeth, a child cannot learn to make these sounds.  Often, the speech habits formed in early childhood persist for many years and require speech therapy to correct.
  • Jaw Growth – A proper bite relationship between the upper and lower teeth is vital to normal, healthy growth of the upper and lower jaws. When teeth are lost and shift into inappropriate positions, it can negatively influence how the jaws grow.
  • Formation of Permanent Teeth – Permanent form from the cells in baby teeth. If a baby tooth is missing, the permanent tooth will not develop.  If a baby tooth is infected or injured, the developing permanent tooth is often damaged.  This damage may result in an abnormal shape or weakened enamel on the growing permanent tooth, which would cause an unsightly appearance and a higher risk for cavities.
  • Holding Space for Permanent Teeth – Healthy baby teeth maintain the health of the jawbone and keep space available for permanent teeth to come in. If a baby tooth is lost from infection or injury, the teeth around it begin to shift into that space.  This results in a lack of space for the underlying permanent tooth to come into its correct position in the jaw.  It leads to crooked, crowded teeth, which will require years of braces to fix.

How are Baby Teeth Different from Permanent Teeth?

Baby teeth are not meant to last forever.  Their purposes are temporary, lasting only until the permanent teeth replace them in the arch.  Because they are only temporary, they are slightly different from permanent teeth.

Baby teeth have thinner enamel.  The layer of enamel covering a baby tooth is about half the thickness of that covering a permanent tooth.  Thin enamel makes it easier for bacteria to penetrate through and cause cavities to spread very quickly.

Baby teeth roots dissolve under pressure.  The baby teeth fall out at just the right time by this mechanism.  The underlying permanent tooth begins to push toward the oral cavity and put pressure on the roots of the baby tooth.  As the roots dissolve, there is nothing holding the baby tooth in the jawbone, and it becomes loose.

Other Reasons to Keep Baby Teeth Healthy

Big cavities on baby teeth cause toothaches.  Babies and young children may experience or communicate that they are experiencing pain differently than an adult does.  You should never assume that a decayed baby tooth is not painful.

Infections on baby teeth can spread to the brain or bloodstream!  These can be extremely dangerous situations.  If there is visible swelling in or near your child’s mouth, seek emergency care immediately!

Baby teeth with dental problems require dental treatment.  By keeping them healthy, you can prevent the need for expensive and traumatic dental visits for your child.

Do You Have More Questions about Baby Teeth?

Call us today at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning or an evaluation of your child’s baby teeth.  He will discuss with you all you should know about caring for your child and his or her teeth.

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