Published: 27 July 2015
By:Dr R van Huyssteen
Protecting your child’s teeth
At birth all 20 crowns of your child’s primary teeth (milk teeth/baby teeth) are already fully developed and situated in the jaw bone. The front 4 incisors (2 top and 2 bottom) can erupt as soon as 6 months. When your child reaches 3 years all the primary teeth, normally 20, are usually present in the mouth. They have several important functions and must be maintained until they are replaced by the permanent teeth.
Teeth are for chewing
Children need healthy teeth to comfortably chew their food. The primary molars (last 2 teeth on each side) are only replaced by the permanent teeth between ages 10 and 12. If they are extracted at an early age your child will find it hard to effectively chew his/her food. This can lead to digestive problems and malnutrition. Your child will also push his bottom jaw forward to chew his food with his front teeth and this leads to an incorrect relationship between the upper and lower jaw. This can cause various problems and will have to be corrected with orthodontic treatment.
“s” , not “th”
The primary teeth are important for speech development. If the front teeth (incisors) are extracted at an early age the child can experience difficulty in forming letters like s, t, v and l. The permanent incisors erupt between the ages of 6-8 and by this time your child could have developed a speech impediment.
The primary teeth functions as space maintainers for the underlying permanent teeth. If they are extracted at an early age the space they keep can shrink or close up and then the permanent teeth cannot erupt, or they erupt in the wrong position. Orthodontic treatment is again necessary to correct the occlusion.
If a primary tooth develops a cavity and later an abscess, the infection can affect the normal development of the underlying permanent tooth. When this tooth later erupts it has a deformed crown.
Careful what you put in the bottle
You must choose wisely what your child drinks from his/her baby bottle. In fact, a child should only drink formula milk or water from his bottle. Do not put cool drink or any sweetened drinks in your child’s bottle. Fizzy drinks are especially harmful as they contain a lot of sugar and are very acidic. Fruit juices can be diluted by half with water. Cool drinks and other sweetened drinks should rather be taken from a cup. Do not put your child to sleep with a full bottle of milk. When he has finished his milk, rather give him water or some unsweetened tea to drink during the night if he gets thirsty. Incorrect feeding habits can lead to baby bottle feeding syndrome where bacteria and acids severely damage all the upper primary teeth. This leads to abscesses and eventually all the affected teeth need to be extracted. This can happen as early as 2 years and leads to numerous complications as explained.
Brush, brush, brush…and floss
As soon as the primary teeth erupt, they should be kept clean to prevent tooth decay. Parents must brush their children’s teeth in the morning and evening. You can start brushing with a soft tooth brush and without toothpaste and add the toothpaste at a later stage. A pea size amount of toothpaste is sufficient and children should be taught to spit it out when you have finished brushing their teeth. There are toothpastes and toothbrushes available that are appropriate for different ages. When all the primary teeth are visible it is important to start flossing. It is the parent’s responsibility to brush and floss their children’s teeth until they can effectively do it on their own.
Your child’s eating habits also has an influence on the health of his teeth. A diet that is high in sugar can cause a lot of problems. Sweets and cool drinks should be consumed with meals. Between meals your child should snack on healthy foods.
Welcome to the dentist
Take your child with you when you go to the dentist for your general check-up. Let him sit and watch so that he can become comfortable with the dental environment. The more comfortable he gets the more relaxed he will be when it is his turn. Your child can start getting check-ups when he is 1 year old.
Always keep in mind that if your child has healthy primary teeth, he will most probably have healthy permanent teeth.