By Dr. Stephen Durham
It’s a common question among parents and even young dental patients themselves: “Why is it important to take care of baby teeth if they’re just going to fall out?”
Even though the first set of teeth are temporary, they set the stage for oral health for a lifetime. If you fail to care for your child’s teeth early in life and don’t teach him or her proper self-care, it could cause problems for years to come.
Baby teeth are placeholders
Baby teeth do everything for young children that permanent teeth do for older children and adults. They help him or her speak, chew and smile at others. They also act as a placeholder in the jaw for the permanent teeth to come in later.
Children typically start losing primary teeth around age 6 and continue to lose teeth until around age 12.
When a child loses a baby tooth prematurely due to decay or trauma, it disrupts the natural eruption process. The teeth coming in get confused and drift towards the open space instead of where they were supposed to grow.
The results can mean crooked or crowded teeth – and a big orthodontist bill later.
While trauma to the mouth happens, the loss of primary teeth due to decay is entirely preventable.
You don’t have to wait until your baby officially has teeth to start taking great care of his or her oral health.
After each feeding, use a warm washcloth or gauze pad to wipe the gums clean. This helps to prevent tooth decay even though you don’t see any teeth. Believe it or not, decay can start as soon as the first primary teeth erupt around 6 months of age.
Plan to brush your child’s teeth yourself or closely supervise until at least age 3.
Fluoride toothpaste is best, and the amount you put on the toothbrush doesn’t have to be any more than a grain of rice.
If you have one of those toddlers who insists on doing it themselves – and what toddler doesn’t? – try the hand-over-hand method while teaching him or her. You can also model how you brush your own teeth.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that babies see the dentist by their first birthday or 6 months after the first tooth erupts. This is the ideal time for parents to receive additional instruction on dental care for young children.
A recipient of the 2012 Mastership Award from the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), Dr. Stephen Durham is a graduate of Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina College of Dental Medicine. He is a past recipient of the LVI Fellowship Award for Neuromuscular and Cosmetic Dentistry. Durham practices at Durham Dental at Town Center in Beaufort. For more information, visit his website at www.DrStephenDurham.com or call 843-379-5400.