The value of baby teeth is often underestimated and the care of these first teeth is therefore often neglected. However, baby teeth are just as important as adult teeth and can have a permanent effect on adult teeth from the time they are buds right through adulthood.
Some of the reasons why baby teeth are so important and deserve a good oral hygiene routine include:
1. Biting And Chewing
Baby teeth first start appearing between the ages of 6 months and 1 year. The appearance of these teeth is a sign that a baby is ready to start eating solid foods – although the softer, mushy variety is better suited until more teeth come in.
The basic function of teeth is to bite and chew food. Chewing food is absolutely essential to promote healthy digestion and the absorption of nutrients in a diet. The first few teeth are usually the incisors located in the front of the mouth on the bottom and then on the top.
These incisors are the biting teeth and not really designed for chewing. This is why breast or bottle feeding with an age-appropriate formula is still recommended to supplement the baby’s new solid food diet. Once the back teeth (premolars and molars) arrive, the baby is far better able to chew and can be weened from the breast or bottle.
Good nutrition is absolutely crucial to early physical development. Poor nutrition or malnutrition resulting from poor oral health at an early age can result in low muscle tone and weaker teeth and bones in young children. Children who have dental health problems may also be in pain that can affect their ability to bite, chew, and get the nutrients they need to thrive and develop.
2. Early Development
From an early age, when the first teeth are just erupting, teeth play an integral role in childhood development. Teeth are essential to the ability to make certain sounds and are therefore critical to early and later speech development. Speech development is in turn essential to the ability to communicate effectively and is therefore just as important in the social development of a child.
Baby teeth that are in poor condition can result in delayed speech development which can affect many other areas of development in babies and young children. These delays in development are often carried through into adulthood and can negatively impact self-esteem and confidence.
3. Mental And Emotional Well-Being
Children who have bad teeth often suffer from poor self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. This can stem from being teased about their teeth by other children or their own self-conscious need to withdraw from social interactions. Poor self-esteem is directly linked to depression in children.
This depression can carry on into the teens and adulthood affecting them for their entire lives. Low self-esteem can also lead to other mental and emotional problems later in life such as the development of anxiety disorder, especially social anxiety.
4. Preparing For Adult Teeth
From the moment baby teeth start erupting, adult tooth buds are beginning to form in the gums, ready to grow and take the place of the baby teeth when they fall out. The baby teeth prepare space along the jawline for the adult teeth to come in.
Baby teeth that fall out too early or are unhealthy can result in a lack of space for adult teeth resulting in overcrowding or misalignment such as an overbite, underbite, or crossbite. These dental issues will need to be corrected with the assistance of an orthodontist and braces at a later age (normally around 12 or 13 years of age when a full set of adult teeth has replaced all baby teeth). Wearing braces at this age can significantly impact social development as well as self-esteem in the teenage years.
In addition, infections, cavities, or other dental health problems with baby teeth can be passed on to the adult tooth buds. This can result in discoloration of adult teeth or weakened enamel that makes teeth more susceptible to wear and tear and corrosion in adulthood.
Teeth, including baby teeth, are also essential to ensuring a good flow of blood to the jaw bone carrying nutrients and oxygen. A jaw bone that is not receiving adequate blood flow will begin to deteriorate resulting in a number of different issues.
5. General Health
In early life, baby teeth are essential to ensuring that essential nutrients are absorbed to promote growth and development as well as good general health and well-being. This follows on into adulthood where poor oral health has been associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer, Type II Diabetes and many other general or physical health conditions.
It is absolutely critical to care for baby teeth and implement good oral hygiene habits for healthy baby teeth as well as adult teeth later in life.