The popular misconception that primary teeth aren’t as important, because they aren’t permanent, contributes to the reason dental disease is the most common childhood chronic illness and unmet health need for children in the United States. Baby teeth might not last forever, but they aren’t expendable. Untreated cavities can cause serious immediate harm, and negatively affect how a young mouth develops.
A critical direct effect of children with untreated cavities is pain, school absences, difficulty concentrating and poor appearance – problems that greatly affect a child’s quality of life and ability to succeed. Additionally, primary teeth hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are growing under the gums. When a baby tooth is lost too early, the permanent teeth can drift into the empty space and make it difficult for permanent teeth to find room when they appear. This can make teeth crooked or crowded. Baby teeth also help children speak clearly and chew naturally. And even a young child can be self-conscious of missing or decayed teeth. A healthy smile builds self-esteem!
Good habits start early and proper dental care should begin before baby teeth even appear. Since your baby is born with 20 primary teeth in their jaw, routinely run a clean, damp washcloth over their gums to clear away harmful bacteria. Also remember that this bacterium is infectious and transmissible. So, it’s best to not share spoons with your baby and avoid testing the temperature of the bottle or cleaning a pacifier by putting it in your mouth. This will help stop the transmission of bacteria that causes tooth decay.
Teaching children to care for their primary teeth plays a critical role in how they care for their permanent teeth. Once baby teeth begin to appear follow this guidance to keep a healthy smile throughout childhood.
Avoid letting your baby fall asleep with a bottle. Formula, juice and milk all contain natural sugars which, when left on a baby’s teeth for hours, can erode tooth enamel that protects against tooth decay. When this happens, the front teeth can become discolored, pocked, and pitted, leading to cavities and possible extraction.
Fluoride is safe for use in toothpaste and mouthwash, but in very high doses it can be toxic. When brushing your baby’s teeth, use only a rice grain-sized amount of toothpaste. By age 3, children can use a pea-sized amount, since they are able to spit out the toothpaste. Choose a fluoride toothpaste that carries the American Dental Association's (ADA) seal of acceptance.
Brush your baby’s teeth with an infant sized toothbrush. When two or more teeth touch, begin flossing.
Not having your child rinse with water after brushing will make it less likely they swallow toothpaste.
Until around 8 years of age your child should be supervised while brushing.
Regularly, check your child’s teeth for suspicious tiny white or brown spots. These may indicate possible cavities and should be checked by your dentist right away.
By baby’s first birthday, schedule an appointment with your family dentist. During this initial visit your dentist will conduct a modified exam, explain proper brushing and flossing techniques, and the best way to handle any bad habits such as thumb sucking.
It's important to love those tiny teeth by beginning good oral care early, teaching proper dental hygiene and routinely visiting your family dentist. It will lead to a lifetime of healthy smiles.