Primary teeth, also known as baby teeth, are the first teeth that we get in our lifetime, and they are incredibly important. Not only do they have basic functions, such as helping kids eat and talk well, but they also have an even bigger purpose: they save space for the child’s permanent teeth later down the road.
Primary teeth play a significant role in some very basic, but crucial, child development processes. First, primary teeth help children learn to speak. The proper positioning of primary teeth will allow children to learn the right way to pronounce words and will keep the tongue from moving during speech.
Baby teeth also help children eat. If the primary teeth are decayed, the child will not be able to form good chewing habits and dietary deficiencies may occur.
Finally, healthy baby teeth help promote self-confidence in children. Healthy teeth help kids be confident when they smile and talk with other children and adults.
It is a common misconception that baby teeth aren’t really important to the overall health of the children’s mouth and gums. But if primary teeth decay early, this can lead to periodontal disease, which allows bacteria to erode the gums, ligaments, and eventually, the bone.
In addition, if primary teeth are not well taken care of, they could fall out prematurely, which leads to health and spacing problems when it’s time for the permanent teeth to emerge. If this happens, the space needs to be saved and a dentist will need to insert a space maintainer, a metal device that encircles the tooth and the space to be saved until the permanent tooth is ready to grow in.
These space maintainers are important, as they prevent other nearby teeth from drifting into the empty area. If the teeth on the other side start moving into the empty space, the new permanent tooth could erupt into the wrong position and affect the positioning of the other teeth, causing them to become crowded and out of line. If these permanent teeth grow this way, they are difficult to clean and are subject to becoming diseased. They could also require expensive orthodontic treatment.
The common misconception that newborns (even toddlers) don’t have dental needs has unfortunately been confirmed in studies. According to findings from a 2009 survey of primary caregivers in the U.S., the average age of a child on their first visit to the dentist was 2.6 years old.
If you’re not aware, that may sound okay, but the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that children see their dentist for the first time by their first birthday or within six months of the first tooth coming in. Our first teeth usually start to come in when we are six months old.
Being unaware of when our children need to first go to the dentist is at least partly connected to the misunderstanding that we don’t have to be vigilant about caring for baby teeth, since they will eventually be replaced by our adult teeth. However, the survey found that the majority of people (62 percent) thought their child was too young or didn’t have enough teeth to visit a dentist. Just 12 percent of those surveyed said lack of insurance coverage was the reason.
Preparing for Your Child’s First Dental Visit
The good news is that if you take your child at the recommended age, you can avoid most of the potential anxiety, since children of that age are too young to be significantly nervous, because they are not fully aware of the circumstances. Sure, there may be some reaction to being in an unfamiliar environment, but it should be much easier for parents to handle.
Once you’ve scheduled your child’s first dental appointment, make sure you have your dentist explain what to expect. What’s exactly going to be performed? How long will it take? It will most likely be a gentle examination of the teeth, gums and jaw, and maybe a quick cleaning. If an x-ray is performed, it can easily feel like a fun game for your child.
It is also a good idea, if possible, to bring your child to one of your regular cleaning appointments as a casual observer before their first appointment. That way they get to come to the dentist, enjoy the experience of being pampered and getting a “prize” without having any expectations of treatment. It is important for the parent not to instill any fear of the dentist by negative comments about their own personal experiences or make it out to be “too big a deal.” Just treat it like a trip to the grocery store. Most first visits are pretty short. So, if your dentist develops a good rapport with your child, it can fly by in no time.
Caring for young children’s teeth can be a challenge. It’s not something most kids enjoy, which can lead to fits and fights when it comes time to brush. But if you can remember how important it is to stay on top of their dental care, you will think twice before giving into the temptation of skipping the occasional nighttime brushings or not making sure they are brushing on their own.
It’s important to keep baby teeth healthy and in place as long as they are naturally supposed to reside in your child’s mouth. There are plenty of important roles they play, and are not any less significant than the adult teeth coming later in their childhood.
Dr. Brad S. King and his staff strive to create a warm, caring, family-oriented dental practice. We don’t rush our patients through their appointments and are happy to answer any questions you may have to help your child’s first visit to the dentist be as stress-free as possible. Call us today!