Why your baby’s milk teeth are vital to his overall development
BIG BRIGHT eyes and cute little white teeth are always the first things I notice on a baby. Do you ever really notice how white they are? It’s almost like a picture of perfection. But why is it important to take care of your baby’s pearly whites, even though they are going to fall out anyway? Because ... SPACE! That’s right, space.
Though you may think your baby’s teeth are only for chewing, they serve a greater purpose, and that’s to maintain the space needed for their adult teeth to emerge. Losing or removing a baby tooth before it falls out naturally is undesirable for your baby and you as the parent or guardian. Teeth love to feel the presence of other teeth. With that said, imagine removing a tooth, and now there is a big space where the extracted tooth was. The tooth behind the space is going to move forward, closer to the tooth in front of the space. That’s what we call ‘mesial shift’ (yeah, we dentists have a fancy term for everything). So then the next question to ask is: What happens to the adult tooth below that space? What happens when it’s ready to emerge and there is not enough space for it to come up because the space is now made smaller because of the mesial shifting? The simple answer is that the tooth will not emerge any at all, or partially, or in the wrong position completely (this is what we call impaction), or the teeth can become ‘crowded’ or ‘clustered’ – simple answer but serious repercussions.
Early loss of baby teeth prevents the proper emergence of adult teeth because of lack of space, but it doesn’t just stop there. Teeth aid in the development of the oral and maxillofacial complex, i.e., the development of your child’s upper and lower jaws. The presence of baby teeth also helps in the development and formation of the final form that the dental arch will have (how the teeth sit in the bone). This, however, is not the only determining factor, but it plays a vital part.
So, how would you fix these problems that are already in existence?
Well, if the tooth is impacted, the first line of treatment would be orthodontic treatment, wherein the orthodontist would attach appliances on the teeth to either
1. open up the space, wide enough for the tooth to emerge,
2. put a chain on the tooth and pull it outward, or,
3. a combination of 1 and 2,which is the most common. The child could also be placed in ‘external’ appliances such as a headgear (though these are not so common anymore). In severe cases, the child may need orthognathic surgery.
This is when the surgeon displaces the upper and/or lower jaws and places them in proper harmony/positioning.
Does this mean, if I have to remove one of my child’s teeth, that this will be the outcome?
Definitely NOT. If one of your child’s tooth is totally unsalvageable and it has to be removed, there are appliances that are called space maintainers that can be placed to hold the space for the adult tooth and keep the arch from disfiguring or collapsing.
How do I prevent early tooth loss for my child?
Proper oral hygiene and good habits. As soon as the baby gets his first tooth, ensure to wipe or brush that tooth, and sensitise your child to the idea of brushing (remember to brush the tongue). As soon as more teeth emerge, encourage brushing twice a day, after breakfast and at night, especially at night before bed. NEVER allow your baby to sleep with the bottle in his or her mouth. Encourage good eating habits and limit the intake of sweets. Remember, as the parent or guardian, you are the child’s role model Brushing together is always an excellent idea. Good habits stay for a lifetime.