The Importance of Baby Teeth

Why are baby teeth important? Your child needs their baby teeth to be healthy to chew their food, speak, and keep the space needed for their adult teeth to grow in properly.  Sometimes when a baby tooth is lost, the teeth next to it can move into the empty space. When the adult teeth try to grow in, there is not enough space.  This can cause teeth to be crooked and or crowded.

Your child’s baby teeth are at risk for decay as soon as they first appear, which is typically around six months. Tooth decay in infants and toddlers is often referred to as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or Early Childhood Caries (cavities). It most often occurs in the upper front teeth, but other teeth may also be affected. In some unfortunate cases, infants and toddlers have experienced decay so severe that the teeth could not be repaired and needed to be removed. The good news is that decay is preventable.

Tooth decay in infants generally begins when bacteria is passed from the mother to the baby.  When a mother (or primary caregiver) puts a spoon or pacifier in their mouth and then back in the baby’s mouth, the bacteria is passed.

Liquids that contain sugar are another reason for decay. These liquids include sweetened water, fruit juice, milk, breast milk and baby formula. A baby should never go to bed with a bottle. The longer the liquid stays on the mouth, the longer the acids that feed on the bacteria have a chance to attach to the teeth, leading to decay.

Fluoride is important because it can combine with the enamel and create a stronger tooth that is more resistant to decay.

Below are tips from the American Dental Association on how to prevent decay on your toddler’s baby teeth:

  • Lower the risk of the baby’s infection with decay-causing bacteria. This can be done two ways – by improving the oral health of the mother/caregiver, which reduces the number of bacteria in her mouth, and by not sharing saliva with the baby through common use of feeding spoons or licking pacifiers and giving them to babies.
  • After each feeding, wipe the baby’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth. This will remove plaque and bits of food that can harm erupting teeth. When your child’s teeth begin to erupt, brush them gently with a child-sized toothbrush and water. (Consult with your kid’s dentist or physician if you are considering using fluoride toothpaste before age two.)
  • When your little one can be counted on to spit and not swallow toothpaste (usually not before age two), begin brushing with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. The American Dental Association recommends fluoride toothpaste. Ask your dentist about your child’s fluoride needs.
  • Brush their baby teeth until he or she is at least six years old.
  • Place only formula, milk or breastmilk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
  • Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed.
  • If your toddler uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean — don’t dip it in sugar or honey, or put it in your mouth before giving it to the child.
  • Encourage children to drink from a cup by their first birthday and discourage frequent or prolonged use of a training (sippy) cup.
  • Encourage healthy eating habits that include a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Serve nutritious snacks and limit sweets to mealtimes.
  • Ensure that your child has adequate exposure to fluoride. Discuss his or her fluoride needs with your dentist or pediatrician.