Why Are Primary Teeth Important?

Learn How to Protect Your Child’s Smile

New parents often have many questions about how to care for their child’s teeth. We all know that children have two sets of teeth. Primary teeth are temporary and begin to emerge between the ages of 6-12 months. Primary teeth are then replaced, usually starting around the age of 6 years old by permanent teeth. This process can continue into adolescence.

When a patient of mine, Susan, came in for her regular dental cleaning recently, she told me that her three year old daughter, Katy, was refusing to brush her teeth. “Is it really that important that she brushes on a regular schedule?” Susan asked, “Isn’t she just going to lose those teeth anyway?”

Susan’s question is an incredibly common one. I explained to Susan that although Katy will lose her primary teeth, it is still vitally important that Katy’s teeth are clean and cavity free. I told Susan that Katy should be brushing her teeth twice a day for many reasons.

Developing Good Habits

It’s important for children to develop good oral hygiene habits early so that they become ingrained in their daily routines. Primary teeth should be cleaned with the same seriousness and thoroughness that permanent teeth are, so that when your child’s permanent teeth emerge your child is able to properly care for them!

Making Space for Permanent Teeth

Primary teeth maintain the spacing of your child’s teeth so that permanent teeth have room to come in. If your child develops a cavity or infection and loses a primary tooth before the permanent tooth is ready to emerge, nearby teeth could drift into the space and close it. This then causes the permanent tooth to grow in crooked because it doesn’t have enough room on the gum line.

Primary teeth emerge around the same time that your child starts to eat solid foods. We don’t often think of chewing as a learned skill, but as your child begins to eat tougher, more difficult foods, they develop the ability to chew foods thoroughly. If your child loses primary teeth to cavity or infection, it will impede their ability to chew effectively.

One of the most important reasons your child needs all of their primary teeth is so that they can learn to speak properly. Without all of their primary teeth, children are more likely to develop speech impediments, such as lisps.

Susan realized how important it was to care for her children’s primary teeth. I proceeded to give Susan some basic guidelines to help her care for Katy’s teeth and the future teeth of her new baby, 4 month old Matt.

  • Clean your child’s teeth twice a day after your child’s first tooth appears.
  • Before your child is 1 year old, gently clean your child’s teeth and gums with wet gauze or a washcloth.
  • Between the ages of 12 and 18 months you can use a soft baby toothbrush with a small dab of fluoride-free toothpaste to clean your child’s teeth and gums. Fluoride-free toothpaste is not harmful for your baby to swallow; fluoride toothpaste if ingested can cause discoloration of the permanent teeth.
  • Once your child turns 2 years old you can start to use a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste to clean your child’s teeth. Make sure to supervise your child; don’t let your child ingest large quantities of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Around the age of 7 children can brush their teeth with adult toothpaste without supervision, provided that they are able to brush without swallowing toothpaste.

This is a general timeline to help you care for your child’s teeth. The most important thing, however, is to do what Susan did and schedule an appointment for your child with a dentist. Your child’s first dentist visit should be within six months of their first tooth erupting, and should be before your child turns one year old. Your dentist will help you understand what your child needs to maintain a healthy mouth and adorable smile!

If you’d like to learn more about primary teeth, or you’re interested in scheduling a dental appointment for your child, just click here to schedule a free consultation.

Next time we’ll be continuing our discussion of primary teeth as we explore the phenomenon of baby bottle tooth decay.

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