Why are baby teeth important?
Many parents overlook the importance of their child’s teeth, especially their baby teeth (also called primary teeth). Some parents do not realize teeth serve functions other than biting and chewing.
Your baby’s teeth perform the following functions:
- Help provide nutrition
- Help make speech possible
- Aid in the normal development of the jaw bones and facial muscles
- Add to an attractive appearance
- Reserve space for the permanent teeth and help guide them into position
Without healthy, reasonably well-aligned teeth, your child may have difficulty chewing and may not be able to eat a well-balanced diet. If your child’s mouth is sore because of cavities, loose teeth, or sore gums, he/she may refuse to eat or may accept only those foods or liquids he/she can consume without more pain. He/she needs a variety of foods for a balanced diet. Chewing foods of different textures stimulates and exercises the gums and provides a cleansing action for the teeth.
The first stage of digestion of some foods takes place in the mouth, and chewing helps break up foods to more easily digested sizes. If your child swallows too rapidly and without chewing food properly, he/she may prolong the digestion process.
Your baby’s teeth are a vital aid to speech. Without healthy, reasonably well-aligned teeth, your baby may have difficulty forming words and speaking clearly. (Think about how a child who is starting to lose primary teeth speaks.)
Like muscles in other parts of the body, your baby’s face and jaw muscles need exercise to help them develop. Without well-developed jaw muscles, your baby’s jawbones may not develop properly. Sucking provides exercise for your baby’s jaw, cheek, and tongue muscles. When your baby is old enough for solid foods, chewing also exercises these muscles. This exercise is necessary for these structures to develop enough for your baby’s teeth to come in properly.
Your baby’s appearance is as important to you now as it will be to his/her later. Not everyone naturally has sparkling white teeth and a beautiful smile. Your baby may have inherited tendencies (for example, a tendency toward having large teeth in a small jaw) that affect the appearance of his/her teeth.
Occurrences during the fetal stages, such as a mother having a fever or taking certain medications, may also affect early tooth development. But you can help your child learn good oral hygiene habits early, which helps add to an attractive appearance.
Your child’s primary teeth must last anywhere from five to ten years or even longer. As a permanent tooth reaches the stage of development when it is ready to erupt (emerge through the gum), the roots of the primary tooth will replace and begin to resorb (break down and dissolve). Gradually, the permanent tooth pushes the primary tooth out and takes the place of the primary tooth. If a primary tooth is lost too soon, the permanent tooth has no guide to follow.
Also, the teeth next to a missing tooth may drift into the space left by the missing tooth. Because these teeth occupy the space meant for another tooth, their permanent replacements will come in the wrong position. The dentist may provide your child with a space maintainer if a primary tooth is lost too soon. It is preferable to take early preventive measures so your child can keep all of his/her primary teeth until they are ready to be shed.
Hopefully by now you are convinced about the importance of your child’s baby teeth. In the next section, we will show you how to care for your child’s teeth.