Your newborn child is a wonder in every way. Each aspect of a baby’s body is unique and special in so many different ways. An important structure which provides a gateway to a baby’s overall health is a baby’s mouth. A baby’s mouth generally contains only gums and no teeth. In some instances, one or more teeth may be present at birth as well, which is also normal.
What are baby teeth?
Baby teeth or, primary teeth are the first set of teeth a baby acquires. These develop between 3-4 months to 1 year of age, gradually appearing in the mouth. By the age of 3 years, we generally see a full complement of baby teeth in a child’s mouth. This results in the cute and captivating appearance of a young child, with beautiful white and gleaming teeth. These are 20 in number, with 10 teeth each, in the upper jaw and lower jaw.
These baby teeth are then gradually replaced by adult teeth, starting at about 6-7 years of age. Eventually, all baby teeth are replaced by a set of permanent or adult teeth.
Common misconceptions about baby teeth
The general feeling exists that baby teeth are of not much importance to the oral health of a child. This is because they are shed off and replaced by permanent teeth. However, this is a grave myth that does not hold true at all. In fact, baby teeth are extremely important in shaping your child’s future smile. Timely appearance and alignment of baby teeth go a long way in defining a child’s smile at a later date.
Why are baby teeth so important?
Baby teeth serve a number of important functions leading to your child’s healthy oral development. Some of these functions are-
1. Nutrition needs
A child’s primary requirement for good health is adequate and healthy nutrition. This is only possible if a child has a healthy set of baby teeth. These allow him/her to chew properly and begin the digestion process in the mouth. A child with dental decay in baby teeth lacks the necessary healthy tooth surfaces to eat and chew comfortably. This results in poor nutrition and poor overall physical health.
2. Speaking and talking
A good set of baby teeth are essential to allow a child to speak and talk properly. Many word sounds require combined action of the tongue and teeth. If baby teeth are decayed or mal-positioned, basic functions such as talking are hampered. A child may develop speech problems such as lisping or mispronunciation or words. This decreases a child’s confidence and may also lead to improper speech development. It is very important to ensure good oral health in the child starting from the day the first baby tooth arrives in the mouth.
3. Personality and self esteem
Children with a set of well aligned baby teeth look attractive and have pleasing smiles. This greatly enhances their self esteem and self confidence. A child with unhealthy, decayed or discolored teeth may be subject to teasing by friends and peers. He/she may also dislike his/her appearance and stop smiling and laughing in public, out of embarrassment. In this day and age, self esteem and confidence are primary tools to a well rounded personality. And a pleasing and healthy smile goes a long way in achieving this goal.
4. Space holding function
Primary teeth or baby teeth serve a very important role as ‘space holders’. In other words, these teeth occupy the spaces which will be later taken up by the adult or permanent teeth. If the baby teeth are decayed or out of arrangement, it is possible that your child will develop crooked teeth at a later date. Timely loss of primary teeth and their replacement by adult teeth is a natural process. This process may be disrupted by misplaced or decayed baby teeth that do not hold the space of future teeth in a proper way. Missing baby teeth cause loss of space for developing permanent teeth, which then come into the mouth in a haphazard fashion. This may then require braces or correction at later date.
5. Less chance of dental decay and related problems
A child with healthy baby teeth is one who has fewer germs and fewer problems such as bad breath, pain and food lodgement in the teeth. This allows him/her to enjoy good oral health, with comfortable chewing. A child with decayed teeth develops pain and possible infected teeth. This may lead to painful and disfiguring appearance of the teeth. Ultimately, this hampers the day to day life and overall good health of a child. Healthy baby teeth ensures healthy adult teeth to a large extent.
Any possible sign of a problem in a baby tooth or teeth must not be ignored and checked by a pediatric (children’s) dentist as soon as possible. Ignoring the possible harmful effects of unhealthy baby teeth can seriously affect the first 6-7 years of a child’s life in terms of nutrition and appearance. Moreover, neglect of oral health in the first few years can result in lifelong oral health problems in your child. Do not underscore the importance of baby teeth in the health and happiness of your child!