“Do baby teeth matter?” is a common question that pediatric dentists like Dr. Paul Rubin are asked, thus emphasizing the importance of debunking the myth that baby teeth don’t matter. The misconception that because baby teeth eventually fall out, they are unimportant, has unfortunately often been the origin of unnecessary dental pain and costly dental treatment.
Healthy baby teeth not only aid in chewing and speaking, but have the vitally important role of holding necessary space intact for the future permanent teeth. The primary teeth need to be healthy in order to fulfill this job successfully.
Baby Teeth Affect Permanent Teeth
As placeholders, the primary teeth create a pathway that the adult teeth will eventually follow. The manner and order in which the baby teeth are lost can affect the alignment of the permanent teeth as they erupt. If a baby tooth is lost prematurely, the underlying permanent tooth can stray out of its intended position.
Premature loss of a baby tooth can be the result of:
- Early childhood caries (ECC): Cavities are the most common reason for premature loss of a baby tooth. Untreated decay can result in the need for extraction due to pain, infection, and/or the possibility of the cavity spreading to other teeth.
- Avulsion: A tooth may be knocked out prematurely due to an accident or sports injury.
- Abscess: Untreated infection (bacteria) in gums or other surrounding tissue can affect the pulp of the tooth, causing it to die (become necrotic) and requiring extraction.
- Medical or congenital condition: Some medical disorders may cause tooth loss, or a child may be born missing a tooth.
Any time a tooth is lost prematurely, there is always concern for the underlying permanent tooth. Baby teeth typically remain in place until just before the replacement permanent teeth begin to emerge. When the reserved space is left open for too long, there is a danger that the remaining teeth on either side will encroach into the open area. When shifting occurs, the new permanent tooth may not have the proper amount of space in which to erupt.
Without proper space, permanent teeth may:
- Become overcrowded
- Erupt misaligned/crooked
- Be more susceptible to gum disease due to positioning
Decay in baby teeth can also affect your child’s permanent teeth. While they cannot be seen, your child’s adult teeth are forming beneath the gums. If a cavity in a baby tooth is left untreated, the decay, as well as infection, can spread to the underlying permanent tooth before it even erupts.
Because the first permanent tooth begins to emerge around age 6, your child will have a combination of both adult and primary teeth for 6-8 years. Any decay on a baby tooth can transfer over to an adjacent permanent tooth, resulting in possible pain, discomfort, and the need for professional dental treatment.
Furthermore, the habits, such as improper or lack of brushing, which allowed the baby tooth to become decayed are just as damaging. Without adjusting and beginning a good oral hygiene routine, the permanent teeth will be at high risk for cavity formation in the future.
Premature Loss of a Baby Tooth
If a baby tooth does come out prematurely, it is important to consult your pediatric dentist. If the permanent tooth is not ready to erupt, your dentist may recommend utilizing a space maintainer to hold the spot reserved for the eventual adult tooth. These dental appliances, which are similar to orthodontic retainers, fill the empty space left by the lost primary tooth and prevent any unwanted movement of the remaining teeth.
At Frisco Kids, we understand that unforeseen circumstances do occur, and we are ready to help your child (and you) get through any dental situation that arises as smoothly and painlessly as possible. Of course, the best solution to avoid premature loss of a baby tooth is to take good care of teeth as soon as they start to come in. With proper brushing, flossing, and nutrition, baby teeth can pave the way for healthy permanent teeth that will last a lifetime.
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s baby teeth or emerging permanent teeth, please contact our office for a consultation.