Why Baby Teeth Matter
Guest Post by The Mummy Dentist Dr Jemma Hook
Whilst it is true that the baby set of teeth will eventually fall out, there are many reasons why it is super important to look after them!
There are 20 teeth in your little ones’ set of ‘primary’ or ‘milk’ teeth and a complete set comprises; 8 incisors, 4 canines + 8 molars. These tiny teeth have a wide variety of functions. However an oral health survey of 3 year olds in England found that a scary 12% of this young age group had already experienced dental decay! So let’s explore the roles of baby teeth in a little more detail…
Teething often commences when a baby is around 6 months (although as with most developmental milestones this can vary by a few months). This is the same time as weaning commences and there are basic food-related functions of different teeth:
- Incisors – the front teeth. These have a sharp flat edge for biting and cutting into food.
- Canines – the ‘corner’ teeth sometimes referred to as a ‘fang’. They have a sharp, pointed biting surface to grip and tear food.
- Molars – The wide back teeth have a large flat biting surface. The function of the molars is to chew, crush and grind food.
A healthy mini mouth is key for your child to be able to experience enjoyment from a whole variety of food textures and flavours.
When we talk we produce different sounds by using our vocal chords along with the various parts of our mouths: lips, cheeks, tongue and of course the teeth are all involved. If teeth are misaligned or missing this can create challenges. Teeth help control airflow out of the mouth and some sounds are made by the tongue striking against the teeth. Teeth help to produce sounds including; ‘f’, ‘v’, ‘s’, ‘ch’ ‘sh’, ‘th’ and more!
The position of a child’s teeth can be affected by habits such as prolonged use of a dummy or bottle. This is one of the reasons why early introduction of drinking from an open cup is recommended (from 6 months).
Learning a ‘sipping’ action is good for promoting oro-facial muscle and jaw development as babies practice new skills including ‘babbling’ and early speech patterns at a young age. It also prevents liquids from pooling around the upper front teeth helping to reduce the risk of decay.
An open cup rim is preferred to a spouted or sealed cup as the spout may impede natural tongue movements or a seal can cause a suck not a sip.
Babycup First Cups are mini open cups specifically designed for babies and young children. Baby-safe, and with baby-sized proportions such as a slim drinking rim and a small circumference to help liquid funnel into the mouth instead of down the cheeks, they are a great way to set your little one with a healthy sipping habit for life. Introducing an open cup has such a great raft of benefits. Using a cup that’s manageable, such as Babycup First Cups, and with just a small amount of liquid to start with, spills are kept to a minimum. As mealtimes are always supervised at the age, it’s a perfect time to start and with babies learning through mimic it’s a great excuse to sit and sip together.
Keeping space for adult teeth
The front baby teeth may begin to loosen and fall out to be replaced by adult ‘permanent’ ones at around age 6 years, however some of the baby teeth will naturally be kept in the mouth up to the age of 12 years or older. If teeth have to be removed (extracted) early due to tooth decay then this can have an impact on the position of the adult successor tooth.
According to Public Health England data “almost 9 out of 10 hospital tooth extractions among children aged 0 to 5 years are due to preventable tooth decay and tooth extraction is still the most common hospital procedure in 6 to 10 year olds.” Depending on what age a baby tooth is lost then the gap for the adult tooth to grow into may close, leading to teeth growing in funny positions or even becoming ‘impacted’. This could increase the need for further dental intervention in the future such as orthodontic treatment with braces.
When those teeny teeth first come in they really do change your baby’s appearance – from a cute gummy grin to a toothy smile! As children interact with others they pick up on factors related to appearance and differences amongst their peers. The health of a child’s teeth can impact their self-confidence and social skills. Problems with teeth have been found to have an effect on young children’s emotional development too.
Absence of pain
Children who experience toothache often have difficulties with eating, disturbed sleep and socialising. This can impact on the whole family! It can lead to multiple visits to the dentists or hospital and they may have to be absent from school and parents may also have to take time off work. Children who need dental work often experience repeated pain and infections. They may have to take painkillers or antibiotics. And treatment might even require a general anaesthetic operation.
‘Oral health’ is considered an important aspect of a child’s overall health status and general wellbeing. Issues with mini ones’ teeth can have a wider effect on a whole range other healthcare areas such as poor nutrition, failure to thrive or childhood obesity.
Most cases of dental decay are preventable!
Sugary foods and drinks are the primary cause of cavities and the enamel on baby teeth is relatively thinner which makes them more vulnerable. Feeding habits, including frequent snacking, added sugars, fluid choices and drinking methods are all considered ‘risk factors’. Of course good daily toothcare (brushing twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste) and regular dental check-ups for tailored assessment and advice are also essential from a young age.
Dr Jemma Hook aka The Mummy Dentist is a dentist and a mum, cutting through the clutter and giving real life guidance with the reassurance of expert knowledge and firsthand experience. (A pretty awesome combo)! Follow Jemma on Instagram @themummydentist for info and advice on caring for children’s teeth plus love and laughter aplenty!
You can buy Babycup First Cups from leading retailers or directly from the Babycup webshop: Babycup First Cups – buy now