The Importance of Primary (Baby) Teeth

Your child’s primary teeth will be there for most of childhood, helping your child to bite, chew and speak. For the first six or so years, he or she will be relying on primary teeth exclusively to perform these important functions. Until around age 12, your child will have a mix of primary and permanent teeth. You will want to make sure those teeth stay healthy and are lost naturally at the appropriate time.

In addition to biting, chewing and aiding in speech, the primary teeth serve as guides for the eruption of permanent (adult) teeth. They hold the space for the permanent teeth. The crowns (tops) of the permanent teeth actually push against the roots of the baby teeth, causing them to resorb, or melt away. In this way, the adult teeth can take their proper place.

Your child’s 20 baby teeth will likely begin to appear between six and nine months, although in some cases, they may start to come in as as early as three months or as late as twelve months after birth. The two lower front teeth tend to erupt first, followed by the two upper ones. The first molars come in next, followed by the canines. Sometimes your baby can experience teething discomfort during this process. If so, there are courses of action to help make your child more comfortable.

How to Preserve the Health of Primary Teeth

To prevent dental decay from damaging your child’s primary teeth, begin cleaning your child’s mouth in infancy. Your infant’s gums and newly erupting teeth should be gently wiped after each feeding with a water-soaked gauze pad or damp washcloth. As soon as a tooth begins poking through the gums, you may begin a daily routine of brushing the tooth with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and a tiny bit of fluoridated toothpaste.

As your child grows, you will brush all of her or his teeth. Your child may need your help with this important task until about the age of 6 or older. While any fluoride toothpaste is safe to use in small amounts and recommended by us, some parents find their child is more enthusiastic when given a choice of toothpaste flavors and a choice of toothbrushes. We recommend using a soft bristle hand-held brush or electronic toothbrush of the appropriate size for your child. Ask us more about electronic toothbrushes when you visit.

Help a young child brush at night, the most important time to brush, due to lower salivary flow and higher susceptibility to cavities. Each night, let your child brush their teeth first to develop the skill and build self-confidence, and then you can follow up with brushing more to ensure that all plaque is removed. Usually by age 6 or so, the child can learn to brush his or her own teeth with parental oversight. Brushing twice a day or after each meal and snack is even better! But always brush before bedtime.

When it comes to flossing, we will demonstrate how to do this appropriately depending on the age of your child. The best way to teach a child how to brush and floss is to lead by good example. Allowing your child to watch you brush and floss your teeth teaches the importance of good oral hygiene.
In general, young children should not use mouthwash because they may swallow the product. At the appropriate time in your child’s development, we will recommend an alcohol-free, antimicrobial oral rinse that is safe and appropriate for your child.

To avoid baby bottle tooth decay and teeth misalignment due to sucking, try to wean your child off of the breast and bottle by one year of age, and monitor excessive sucking of pacifiers, fingers and thumbs. Never put your child down to sleep with a bottle of milk, juice or sweetened liquid as a pacifier