Importance of Baby Teeth


Cortney Davis, RDH

With a new baby in my household, I know how important it is to prepare for her teeth to come in. As soon as a baby’s first tooth comes in, it needs immediate attention and care.  Baby teeth are very important to your child’s health and development.

Children have 20 primary teeth are already present in the jaw at birth and will typically begin to erupt when a baby is 6 months to a year old. All 20 teeth should be erupted by the age of 3. Every child is different, but usually the first teeth to come in are located in the bottom front following the upper front of the mouth.

When babies teeth first come in, most babies have tender or sore gums. You can gently rub your child’s gums with wet gauze, a washcloth, a clean finger, or a clean teeth ring to chew on. If your child is still cranky or in pain, you can always consult with you physician or dentist on how to comfort your baby.

As stated earlier, baby teeth are very important to your child’s health and development. They help your child speak, chew, smile, and also 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 other adult teeth to find room when they come in. This can make teeth crowded or crooked making it harder to keep clean and cavity free. That’s why starting infants off with good oral care can help protect their teeth and prevent tooth decay.

Tooth decay in infants and very young children is often referred to as baby bottle tooth decay. Baby bottle tooth decay happens when sweetened liquids or those with natural sugars (like milk, formula, and fruit juice) cling to an infant’s teeth for a long time. Bacteria in the mouth thrive on this sugar and make acids that attack the teeth. At risk are children who get a sugary drink to go to bed or sugary drinks frequently. The most common teeth affected by baby bottle caries are the upper front teeth.

How can you properly care for your young child’s teeth? Begin cleaning your baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth. As soon as teeth appear, decay can occur. For young children, start brushing their teeth as soon as they begin to erupt by using fluoride toothpaste in the amount no more than a smear the size of a grain of rice and when they are a little older the size of a pea.  Brush the teeth thoroughly twice per day and supervise older children when they brush to ensure they use the appropriate amount of toothpaste and they are brushing every area. Always remind children not to swallow the toothpaste and to spit it out after they are finished. When your child’s teeth begin to touch, it is important that you and your child start incorporating flossing daily to help remove plaque in between the teeth.

The American Dental Association recommends that you bring your child to the dentist soon after the first tooth comes in and no later than your child’s first birthday.  The first couple visits are considered “happy visits” and will help your child get familiar with the dentist office. It also gives your dentist a chance to check for tooth decay and discuss other conditions or habits such as thumb sucking and your child’s diet that may affect your child teeth. Your dentist also can show you how to properly care for your child teeth and can answer any questions you have about their oral care.

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