October 21, 2004
Baby teeth are so tiny that many parents overlook the importance of caring for them. But the health of children’s first set, or primary teeth, affects how healthy their mouths will be for the rest of their lives.
"Most of the time (parents) think they’re just going to fall out," said Dr. Jonathan Staker of Pediatric Dental Specialists in Gilbert. "Dentistry is not the most inexpensive thing, and parents have a hard time understanding why they should spend money on teeth that will fall out."
Primary teeth usually begin to arrive when a child is 6 to 8 months old, but some infants are born with teeth. Staker said many parents are unaware that the last of these baby teeth don’t fall out until a child is 9 to 12 years old.
This set helps the child eat, and it also maintains space in the mouth for permanent teeth. If a child has to lose a baby tooth to decay or disease, it can lead to crowding in the mouth when the permanent teeth show up. An unhealthy mouth may also pose a threat to permanent teeth, Staker said.
"Cavities are contagious, it’s a bacterial disease," he said. "If it’s present in the mouth when the permanent teeth come in, it’s more likely that they’ll be infected."
Staker said even before the first tooth emerges, parents should care for their babies’ gums by wiping them with a clean cloth. Once the front teeth begin to emerge, care for them in the same way, unless they are touching.
"If the teeth are touching together or (children) start to get back teeth in, we need to start brushing the teeth," Staker said.
Do this by using a toothbrush and water or just a tiny amount of toothpaste if the child is still too young to spit. Swallowing toothpaste can lead to an upset stomach.
If a child’s teeth show discoloration or if a hole begins to form, Staker said it’s important to see a dentist because these are signs something is wrong. Children with healthy teeth should see a dentist no more than six months after the first tooth arrives or by their first birthday.
"Establish a dental home where we can have checkups and monitor the growth and development of the children so we can catch problems early," he said.
Tips for healthy teeth
• Clean babies’ gums with a cloth and water even before teeth emerge.
• Once teeth begin touching or back teeth form, use a toothbrush for cleanings.
• Visit a dentist no more than six months after the first tooth arrives.
• Establish a regular relationship with a pediatric dentist so problems can be caught early.