The Importance of “Baby Teeth” (Milk Teeth)
By: Leanne Higgs
Registered Dental Hygienist, Dental Therapist
You may not be aware, but children’s teeth actually start to form before birth! The first primary (”baby” or “milk”) tooth can appear in an infant as young as 4 months while some children are born with the front teeth (incisors) erupted.
Soon after the baby is born, oral care should begin. Gums should be cleaned after each feeding. Wipe gums with a clean, damp cloth or gauze pad. You can begin brushing your child’s teeth as soon as they appear. Toothpaste should not be used until your child is able to rinse and spit out all the toothpaste. No more than a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste should be used for children under six years of age. A dental check-up can be booked as early as 6 – 12 months but it is strongly suggested the initial visit to the dentist be no lager than 3 years of age. The aim is to have the first visit a fun and interesting experience since first impression really count!
If you give your baby a bottle of milk, formula or juice (they all contain sugar in some form) at nap or bedtime a condition called “nursing bottle mouth” may occur. This involves moderate to extensive cavities on the front 12 teeth – usually top and bottom! Cavities to this degree can cause pain to your child and the teeth may need to be extracted. If you must give your baby a bottle at nap or bed time, fill it with plain water.
Teeth are used for chewing, smiling and talking. The primary teeth also play an important role in holding the space for the permanent teeth. If the primary teeth are taken out before the permanent teeth are ready, your child may experience shifting of the adult teeth. Crooked teeth are more prone to cavities. Keeping baby teeth clean and healthy is important. It helps to establish life long habits and parents play an important role model in this regard.
By six years of age, many children are getting their first adult molars. These are called the six-year molar. Often, they are mistaken for baby teeth and the proper attention is not given to them. Plaque control (tooth brushing and flossing) in many children is not 100% effective and there is a strong chance that these molars can get cavities! These molars are meant to last a lifetime.
Fortunately, dental sealants can help provide additional protection against cavities on the chewing surfaces of teeth. A plastic coating is painted on the grooved chewing surfaces of the back teeth. Your dentist or dental hygienist may also recommend regular fluoride treatments or fluoride supplements to strengthen the enamel to resist decay. Whenever possible, drink fluoridated water and always use fluoridated toothpaste approved by the American or Canadian Dental Association (ADA or CDA).
Children continue to “change teeth” into the early teenage years. By the age of 13 – 14 all the “baby” teeth are usually lost. Most adults have a complete set of adult teeth by age 21. There are 28 permanent teeth or up to 32 including the third molars (also called
wisdom teeth). Teeth are meant to last a life time and the best time to start off with good dental health is as soon as possible. Please contact your dental team if you have any questions or concerns.