February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. Many people mistakenly assume that baby teeth are unimportant since they fall out.
This is a dangerous myth!
Baby teeth are essential for proper nutrition, speech, and jaw growth. If your child’s baby teeth are not healthy, your child is not healthy. By answering these frequently asked questions, we explain what the importance of baby teeth is and how to keep them healthy until they are ready to fall out naturally.
Baby teeth have a chamber inside, but it is not empty. It contains nerves and blood vessels, just like permanent teeth. Baby teeth sometimes appear hollow when they fall out because the roots and internal contents slowly dissolve during the process.
Baby teeth are made of the same enamel and dentin that make up permanent teeth. The composition is the same so baby teeth are just as hard as permanent teeth. Only the thickness of each structure differs between baby teeth and permanent teeth. Enamel is thinner on baby teeth.
The enamel on baby teeth forms a hard shell around the tooth, which is just as resistant to cavities as that on a permanent tooth. However, that hard shell is thinner on baby teeth. So once bacteria have broken through the shell, a cavity can spread faster.
Baby teeth are not more prone to cavities starting. They are more prone to cavities spreading.
It is good for baby teeth to have gaps between them. This lowers cavity risk and provides more room for the permanent teeth. A child with gaps between their baby teeth is less likely to have crooked or crowded permanent teeth.
Teething is the pain, inflammation, and overall grumpiness babies experiences when their teeth begin coming into the mouth. Teething lasts about a month for each tooth that comes into the mouth. Most children will have off-and-on periods of teething from the age of 6 months to 2 years. Thankfully, many baby teeth enter the mouth at the same time, so this limits the amount of time your child is uncomfortable.
Because baby teeth contain nerves, they can get toothaches, just like an adult tooth. Pain in baby teeth most commonly results from large cavities, injuries, or teething.
Baby teeth can die as a result of cavities or injuries. If a child falls and hits a tooth, it may change color and become dark grey. This indicates a dead nerve. Dead nerves are sources of infection, and those teeth have to be extracted to prevent the infection from spreading.
The first tooth usually enters a baby’s mouth around 6 months old. The front four teeth on top and bottom all come in within a few months. Then the baby canines and molars enter the mouth between 1-2 years old. These average ages vary up to 6 months in both directions. Do not worry if your baby’s teeth come in 6 months earlier or 6 months later than average.
Children begin to lose their baby teeth around age 6-7 years. The lower front teeth are the first to go. The teeth usually come out in the same order they came into the mouth. The process takes longer, though. Usually the last baby tooth falls out around age 12.
If a baby tooth gets a cavity, it does need a filling. As discussed above, cavities spread faster on baby teeth. This means a cavity is even more urgent on a baby tooth. If a cavity is NOT repaired with a filling, the cavity will rapidly spread to the nerve inside the tooth, causing an infection.
Infections in baby teeth are dangerous and can cause your child to suffer serious harm.
Please come see us! We are happy to answer any other questions you have about baby teeth in general or your child’s specific concerns.