Early dental care is an integral element to children's life-long health. Getting your child off to a good start now could mean avoiding serious dental health issues in the future.
Why Primary Teeth Are Important
A child’s teeth actually start forming before birth. As early as 4 months of age, the primary or 'baby' teeth push through the gums – the lower central incisors are first, then the upper central incisors.
The remainder of the 20 primary teeth typically erupt by age 3, but the place and order varies.
Primary teeth are important for several reasons. Foremost, good teeth allow a child to eat and maintain good nutrition. Healthy teeth also allow for clear pronunciation and speech habits. And of course, the self-image that healthy teeth give a child is immeasurable.
Primary teeth are vital to development of the jaws, and for guiding the permanent (secondary) teeth into place when they replace the primary teeth around age 6.
Good Diet and Healthy Teeth
The teeth, bones and soft tissue of the mouth require a healthy, well-balanced diet. A variety of foods from the five food groups helps minimize (and avoid) cavities and other dental problems.
Most snacks that children eat cause cavities, so children should only receive healthy foods like vegetables, low-fat yogurt and cheeses, which promote strong teeth.
Permanent teeth begin eruption around age 6, starting with the first molars and lower central incisors. This process continues until around age 21.
Adults have 28 secondary (permanent) teeth—32 including the third molars (wisdom teeth).
Normally, the first tooth erupts between ages 6 to 12 months. Gums are sore, tender and sometimes irritable until the age of 3.
Rubbing sore gums gently with a clean finger, the back of a cold spoon or a cold, wet cloth helps soothe the gums. Teething rings work well, but avoid teething biscuits—they contain sugar that is not good for baby teeth.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
While your baby is teething, it is important to monitor the teeth for signs of baby bottle decay. Examine the teeth, especially on the inside or the tongue side, every two weeks for dull spots (whiter than the tooth surface) or lines.
A bottle containing anything other than water and left in an infant’s mouth while sleeping can cause decay. This happens because sugar in the liquid mixes with bacteria in dental plaque, forming acids that attack the tooth enamel. Each time a child drinks liquids containing sugar, acids attack the teeth for about 20 minutes.
When your child is awake, saliva carries away the damaging liquid. During sleep, however, the saliva flow significantly decreases and liquids pool around the child’s teeth for long periods, covering the teeth in acids.
Since primary teeth guide the permanent teeth into place, infants with missing primary teeth or infants who prematurely lose primary teeth may require space maintainers, which hold the natural space open.
Without a maintainer, the teeth can tilt toward the empty space and cause permanent teeth to come in crooked. Be sure to mention missing teeth to your family dentist.
The way your child cares for his/her primary teeth plays a critical role in how he/she treats the permanent teeth. Children and adults are equally susceptible to plaque and gum problems – hence, the need for regular care and dental check-ups.