Any time a parent learns that their child has a cavity in a baby tooth, it’s natural to start to wonder, “Does that tooth even need to be fixed?” Or, “It’s a baby tooth and will fall out anyway. It’s no big deal.”
If you’ve ever had those thought processes run through your mind, you’re not alone. After all, those first teeth are only temporary. But here’s the surprising part: the health of those primary (baby) teeth play a significant role when it comes to what your child’s future smile will look like one day.
Aren’t Baby Teeth Meant to be Temporary?
Absolutely! Baby teeth usually start erupting sometime around six months or close to your child’s first birthday. By around age 2, most children have most of their 20 primary teeth. It will be a few more years before those teeth start to shed (exfoliate) and be replaced with their permanent counterparts.
Spread of Infection
Even though primary teeth are temporary, they can become diseased or infected. And those infections can spread elsewhere in the mouth – including the adult teeth that are still developing underneath them.
Baby teeth aren’t as dense as permanent ones, because they naturally need to resorb over time as the adult tooth starts to erupt. That characteristic means that a cavity inside of a baby tooth can spread at alarming rates. When it does, the infection can destroy larger amounts of tooth structure, “jump” to adjacent teeth, and also impact the adult tooth that’s yet to erupt.
In rare situations, pediatric dental infections can also result in facial swelling or infection inside of the brain, requiring hospitalization.
Guiding the Placement of Adult Teeth
Every baby tooth acts as a guide for the adult tooth that will one day replace it. If an accident or cavity damages the primary tooth, it can affect your child’s smile for the rest of their life. Their permanent teeth need the baby tooth to last up until it’s time for them to erupt.
Orofacial development is a fine balance between tooth positioning, jaw size, and growth of facial bones. Everyone’s profile is different! But losing a tooth prematurely — such as pulling a baby tooth with a cavity instead of repairing it — can lead to a host of complications!
For example, prematurely removing a diseased baby tooth and creating an open space in the jaw can cause the adjacent teeth to tilt inward. As a result, the adult tooth underneath becomes impacted. Additionally, the adult teeth under those adjacent teeth may now be guided into a different position than where they’re supposed to erupt. The result: changes in jaw shape and potential orthodontic complications.
Of course, there will always be instances where a baby tooth is too decayed to repair. If an extraction is recommended, Dr. Huynh can discuss “space maintainer” options to make sure that there’s room for the adult tooth to erupt into the proper location.
Speech Development, Diet, and Self-Confidence
Losing a tooth too early can alter a child’s speech patterns, resulting in slurring or speech impediments. Preserving the proper teeth for the right length of time is an essential part of your child’s development.
Healthy teeth are also vital to a balanced diet. Without being able to thoroughly chew foods correctly, children may need to alter their eating habits. As a side effect, issues like malabsorption or irregular tooth wear can easily develop.
Children aren’t immune to the self-confidence challenges of missing or diseased teeth. If your child feels embarrassed about smiling, it can affect their social relationships and self-esteem.
Treatment for Childhood Tooth Decay
Early intervention is key when it comes to treating decay in baby teeth. By scheduling regular six-month checkups, Dr. Huynh can identify signs of tooth decay before it has a chance to evolve into anything too severe. That way your child’s tooth can be repaired with a small filling. In fact, fluoride treatments may even be able to reverse early signs of decay. Larger cavities may require therapy such as a pulpotomy and crown. Ultimately, our goal is to help extend the lifetime of their baby tooth and avoid having to extract it.
A Healthy Smile Starts Early
At Eastport Dental, our Mesa family dentist provides quality dental care for all ages. Including kids! If you’re looking for a pediatric dentist in the area, why not consider choosing a family provider like Dr. Huynh, who can see everyone under one roof?
Call our Mesa dentist today to request your child (or family’s) next appointment.