They’re baby teeth. They’re going to fall out anyway.
Local pediatric dentists say baby teeth have more influence on permanent teeth than parents might realize.
Nadine Al-Hammali, pediatric dentist at Kid’s Dentistree, an affiliate of Abbeville Dentistry, said many people don’t realize the importance of early childhood dentistry.
“It’s about prevention,” she said. “It’s early intervention. I think that really makes a difference, especially with children. A lot of parents think, ‘They’re baby teeth; they’re not important.’ I don’t think a lot of people know how important baby teeth really are.”
Not just baby teeth
Baby teeth act as guides for permanent teeth, Al-Hammali said. When a child loses a tooth early or through trauma, teeth around the space will lean toward it to fill the gap, she said.
Taking preventative health measures such as brushing a baby’s gums and teeth with small amounts of toothpaste, monitoring their fluoride intake and controlling their milk and juice intake can make a difference in your child’s permanent teeth, said Cecily Jackson, pediatric dentist at Jackson Pediatric Dentistry.
Early pediatric dentistry can do more than just keeping your baby’s teeth healthy, she said.
“If you can develop a relationship with your dentist and build a dental home, you can prevent so many dental issues,” Jackson said.
Almost 40 percent of children have tooth decay by the time they get to kindergarten, Jackson said.
“Decay is the No. 1 reason that kids miss school,” she said. “It’s more common that they miss school for pain associated with decay than it is for the common cold. I think people just blow it off because it’s their baby teeth. They don’t realize what that could do.”
Diets and bad habits
Watching a child’s intake and eliminating bad habits are also key to growing healthy teeth, Jackson said.
“What I always recommend is isolating milk and juice to meal times,” Jackson said. “You don’t want to leave a child going to bed with milk or juice. That’s the No. 1 reason that kids get decay. … Parents put milk in the bottle, give it to the baby and just put it in bed. Their teeth are just sitting there rotting throughout the night.”
Though a child’s tooth alignment is mostly genetic, Jackson said there are other factors that can play in to the structure of a child’s mouth. By going to the dentist early, parents can prevent future complications, she said.
“What we can do is we can address early issues,” she said. “… We can diagnose the problem and start addressing it very early instead of waiting until the kid is a teenager and the problem has compounded. … we can also address things that change the shape of the mouth like thumb-sucking and pacifier use.”
Chris Norton, dentist for Abbeville Dentistry, said the teeth surrounding an empty space will drift to fit the space and block the adult teeth from growing properly.
A child’s missing baby tooth can also impact the shape of their facial structure, he said.
A narrow arch, forward-sticking teeth and other orthodontic problems can result later on, Jackson said.
Not sharing spoons or other similar items with kids is also a bad long-term habit, she said. It can keep bacteria from other cavity-infested teeth from transferring to the child.
“They get it from mom or whoever is feeding them,” Jackson said. “If they blow on the spoon, she gives it to them, she just gave them some bacteria. If they’re sharing with their 4-year-old brother who has 20 cavities, they’re going to get some bacteria. So we have to stop that.”
Proper brushing techniques
Al-Hammali said the earlier, the better when it comes to dental care.
“We see babies as young as one month or two months before they have teeth so we can kind of educate the parent so when that first tooth pops out, you have to have that toothbrush in hand,” she said.
Many toothpaste containers have warnings to keep away from children less than 2 years of age, Jackson said.
The reality is a little paste and fluoride is good, she said.
“The Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says that as soon as they have a tooth to 2 (years of age), you use a smear of fluoridated tooth paste,” Jackson said. “Up to 5 (years of age), you use up to a pea-size amount. So it’s very small amounts of toothpaste. … If they swallow it, then that much of an amount won’t be harmful. … The parents need to be instructed on how much to use.”
Al-Hammali said parents often tell her they didn’t realize the importance of brushing their baby’s teeth.
“You still have to wipe it,” she said. “Babies can get an infection on their tongue, on their gums. Parents tell me, ‘I never knew. I never knew you had to brush. I never knew you had to clean their tongue.’ That’s really important.”
It’s important to brush every surface inside a child’s mouth with an age-appropriate toothbrush, Jackson said.
It’s normal and healthy for a child’s teeth to have gaps, Al-Hammali said.
“Generally, little children should have spaces,” she said. “Kids, you see them with these cute smiles. Baby teeth are supposed to have gaps between them, giving them the luxury of not having to always floss. When you see kids at an early age and they don’t have that spacing, it’s not a huge concern or a definite indicator that they need braces or anything. It’s good to floss. Bristles are not getting in between — we still advice them to floss.”
When a child’s tooth begins to decay, the solution is to take it out, Al-Hammali said. This can ruin a child’s teeth, she said.