The Importance of Baby Teeth

Dr Tony Widmonte BDS(Wits)

There are a lot of Moms and Dads out there who were unfortunately never taught by their parents the importance of baby or as we dentists call them “deciduous” teeth. So when their children get teeth its an attitude of: “ What’s all the fuss about baby teeth – they’re going to fall out anyway, so if they have holes what does it matter, the big teeth will soon grow.”
Thankfully that kind of thinking is not so common these days but there are still those who think that way.
Just stop for a moment and consider this: Why are healthy baby teeth so important? Why are we told that regular trips to the dentist are necessary twice or three times a year, even if your child doesn’t complain about his teeth. If a child doesn’t have pain or discomfort parents often wrongly believe that there is nothing wrong.
This is far from the truth. A child’s mouth may have several small or medium sized holes or cavities that are not yet large enough to cause pain – that’s why regular visits are recommended.

Baby teeth serve many significant functions which make it so important to keep these teeth healthy and free of decay.

Eating, Speaking and Appearance

The most important reason for having healthy teeth is to enable the child to chew food into smaller pieces making digestion easier.
Initially infants are breast or bottle fed and the first solid food is soft mushy stuff because baby does not yet have teeth to chew with. By the child’s first birthday all the upper and lower front incisors have erupted. These teeth must be checked and adequately cleaned by the caregiver  who should also ensure that the child eats healthy food.
A common pattern of early decay results from inappropriate bottle-feeding.
Desperate parents will often try to pacify a baby with a bottle of juice or other sweetened drink.
Unfortunately this leads to what is called ‘Baby bottle mouth syndrome’,
where the upper front teeth rapidly decay and if not treated end up as blackened unsightly stumps.
The child is burdened with these until the ages of 6 to 8 when adult teeth usually start to erupt.
This can have a devastating psychological effect on a child.
These front teeth are only swapped for adult teeth between the ages of six and eight. Imagine your child at nursery school with ugly, black teeth and with a speech problem. Without front teeth a child will develop a lisp because certain letters can only be pronounced with  the tongue touching  on the upper front teeth.
The teasing and ridicule by other children is very real problem and can result in an embarrassed, unconfident and withdrawn child, with a speech defect, who can remain like that into adulthood.
So correct bottle nursing, cleaning of teeth and the correct diet can be vital for the child  who will one day be an adult.

Losing baby/decidious teeth can cause problems for the jawbones, muscles and permanent teeth.

How can this happen?
You see, decidious teeth actually encourage normal development of the jawbones and muscles.
When a child chews, the pressure on the teeth encourages bone growth around the roots.
The muscles that open and close the bottom jaw are joined to the upper jaw as well. Here also during chewing and talking the muscles continually pull and put pressure on the bones and encourage normal growth.
Decidious teeth are designed to fit into a small jaw. As the jaw grows, the small teeth no longer fit the growing jaw, so we lose these teeth for larger adult ones.
However if a decidious back tooth is extracted due to decay, the tooth next to it may tilt or drift into the now empty space. In addition, the teeth in the other jaw may move up or down to fill the space left by the missing tooth.
When adjacent teeth shift or move up or down into an empty space left by a lost tooth, the space becomes smaller than it originally was, so a lack of space is created in that jaw for the permanent teeth to grow into.
So we often find that when the permanent teeth erupt they are crowded or cramped together in a smaller space and they may also come out rotated or in the wrong place or even remain permanently buried beneath the gum.
If left untreated, expensive and extensive orthodontic treatment may be needed to make the smile acceptable and give the child a confidant self image.

So you see Moms, Dads and Caregivers, teeth play an important role in how a child interacts with the world we live in – Please don’t forget that!!

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