What's the Big Deal With Baby Teeth?
So what's the big deal about taking care of baby teeth, if they're just going to fall out anyway? Even though baby teeth will eventually fall out to make room for permanent teeth, keeping them healthy is important for your child's development. Children's baby teeth help them chew easily, speak clearly, and hold space for their permanent teeth to grow in later.
Perhaps the biggest importance of baby teeth is to set the stage for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. Establishing dental hygiene habits for young children and toddlers creates a solid foundation for proper care for the rest of their lives. Also known as primary teeth, milk teeth, or deciduous teeth, baby teeth will remain in your child's mouth for eight to ten years, so it is important to keep them clean and healthy.
Improper baby teeth care can result in complications that affect the permanent teeth. For example, decay that results in baby teeth falling out prematurely can result in permanent teeth drifting into the empty space and making it difficult for other adult teeth to find room when it is their turn to erupt. This usually results in crooked or crowded-looking smiles and can be expensive to correct later in life. Therefore, proper care for baby teeth is essential for healthy mouths in adulthood.
Practicing good oral hygiene is important as soon as your baby is born. Schedule your baby's first dental appointment as soon as you see their first tooth appear, or no later than their first birthday.
The Life Cycle of Baby Teeth
The first baby teeth can start to make their appearance somewhere around 3-4 months. However, it is not until about 6 months of age that your child's teeth will really start to erupt through their gums. Keep in mind that all children progress at different rates, so don't worry if you don't see any yet. All twenty primary teeth will usually erupt by age three.
Your baby's first teeth to appear will usually be the bottom front teeth, followed by the top front teeth. The last teeth to grow in fully will typically be your baby's molars in the far back. If you'd like to see a more detailed chart of which teeth to expect at which age, check the American Dental Association's website.
Baby teeth will stick around for anywhere from 6-12 years. The age at which kids shed their baby teeth varies widely, as does the age at which their new teeth will sprout. Most kids will start losing their first front teeth between ages six and eight. Wisdom teeth take the longest to erupt, but will usually do so by age twenty-one.
Growing teeth can be painful for babies and be frustrating for parents. To alleviate some of the pain that comes with teething, try gently rubbing your baby's gums with a clean finger, a cold spoon, or a wet piece of gauze. You can also try giving your child a teething ring, but try to avoid teething cookies as most contain high levels of starch and sugar which are not good for the health of those tiny, new teeth. If your child is still crying and in pain after trying these options, it is time to take them in for a dental check.
Caring for Baby Teeth
The best way to encourage your child to care for their baby teeth is to take good care of your own teeth. Children learn the most by example, so set a good example of brushing and flossing. If your child sees you doing it, they are more likely to look forward to the activity themselves.
However, as any parent understands, morning and bedtime routines can quickly become a frustrating process when your kids resist their daily teeth brushing. To turn this habit from a constant battle to something they look forward to doing, try making brushing fun. Let your kids pick out their own toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss. These products come in all kinds of child-friendly colors and designs that make them more fun for kids to use. Make up a game for brushing or tell a story while they brush.
Show your child how "grown-ups" add paste, hold their toothbrush, and use floss and encourage their progress. Avoid using the dentist as a punishment by saying things like, "if you don't brush your teeth, you'll get a cavity and have to go to the dentist!" It can be tempting, but try to use positive reinforcement instead and tell them what a great job they did all by themselves. Use the Tell, Show, Do method guidelines as a starting place for teaching your kids how to grow good habits.
You should start brushing your child's teeth from the moment you see their first tooth. Use a child's size brush a squirt of fluoride toothpaste about the size of a rice grain. Sometimes kids can get hung up on using toothpaste, so try using water first to encourage them to brush. It's also a good idea to practice rinsing and spitting with water before introducing toothpaste to make sure your child isn't swallowing toothpaste when you aren't looking.
Brush two times a day for two minutes, or about the length of time any of these child-friendly songs. Always supervise your child's brushing until you are certain that they can properly clean their teeth all by themselves. Flossing should begin as soon as your child or toddler has multiple teeth that touch.
Check out some of our resources here and here on how to encourage your children to brush and floss independently. Make sure to visit your dentist regularly to stay on top of any issues that may arise.
Babies and smaller children who are not ready to brush by themselves need extra care and caution. When your baby's teeth first appear, start by brushing with a child-size toothbrush and water. Practice sanitary habits with their pacifiers and baby bottles: always clean off a pacifier by running it under tap water; gently clean your baby's gums with a clean, damp pad after feeding; and never dip pacifiers in sugar or honey.
Finally, a key factor in preventing poor oral hygiene is to eat a healthy diet and avoid foods high in sugar and starch. Diets heavy in sugary sodas, hard candies, and processed treats are not good for your child's healthy smile. For some ideas about which common foods are safe for your kids, check out our blog post about Idaho foods that won't destroy your kids' teeth.
Risks of Poor Baby Teeth Hygiene
Baby teeth are just as prone to cavities as adult teeth. In fact, over 50 percent of children will be affected by tooth decay before age five. One of the most common and severe forms of decay is called early childhood caries, or baby bottle tooth decay.
This common form of decay typically occurs when a baby is given a bottle full of juice or milk during his or her nap or is given a bottle instead of a pacifier for comfort. The baby will fall asleep and stop sucking while the bottle is still in his mouth. The liquid will pass from the nipple into the front part of the baby's mouth and pool there. This essentially means that the infant will sleep with the front teeth being soaked in sugar and starch, which is not good at all. In some cases, the decayed tooth or teeth may need to be removed. Because of the young age at which this can happen, small children may need to undergo sedation or general anesthesia. This is something you absolutely want to avoid.
To prevent this kind of decay, always fill your baby's bottles with milk, breast milk, or formula and never with juice or other sugary drinks. Never lay your baby down for a nap with a bottle in his or her mouth; instead, opt for a pacifier. Encourage your child to transition to drinking out of a cup by their first birthday, so that you minimize time spent with a bottle. Avoid frequent snacking or meals with sugary snacks. Decay can also be caused by a lack of brushing and flossing, or by a lack of access to fluoridated water.
Fluoride is excellent for cleaning teeth and preventing tooth decay. However, too much fluoride in developing teeth can actually be harmful and result in something called fluorosis. Always monitor the amount of toothpaste your child is using and make sure it is no larger than a grain of rice.
Establishing good dental hygiene practices for your child ensures that they will grow happy, healthy adult teeth. The importance of baby teeth is to set the stage for healthy permanent teeth later in life. As parents, you can encourage this process by modeling good behaviors and following the suggestions above for teaching your children how to properly care for their baby teeth.