Saying that new parents are mentally and emotionally overwhelmed is an understatement! Between nighttime feeding, colic, breast or bottle feeding, and sleep training, it is amazing that new moms and dads are capable of handling anything else during the first year!
It is easy to forget all the little details when life is changing so quickly; one of those things that gets forgotten may be your baby’s dental health. Whether your baby pops a few cute teeth right away or rocks a gummy grin for months, it is important to always keep dental—and gum—health in mind!
Those little chompers are doing more than just gnawing on baby teethers and bars of their crib. It may not be obvious why baby teeth are so important, especially since children lose them eventually anyway. But the reality is that these little teeth, and the behaviors that children develop in order to keep them clean, are vitally important to their long-term dental health. Baby teeth can actually impact the health and wellbeing of incoming adult teeth!
Here are some things to consider when thinking about your child’s baby teeth:
Tooth alignment and position
Baby teeth (or “primary teeth”) save space for adult teeth and help to guide the adult teeth into their proper position. So long as the teeth and gums remain healthy (and there are no serious accidents!), these primary teeth stay in place up until the adult teeth underneath are ready to erupt through the gums.
If a baby tooth is lost early due to tooth decay, the adjacent teeth may drift or tip into that gap. The adult (or “permanent tooth”) then has less room to come in properly.
Speech and facial development
Everything in the mouth plays a part when it comes to forming sounds, including your tongue, cheeks, and teeth. The presence and positioning of baby teeth can impact your baby’s ability to form words correctly.
Tooth structure also provides support for the developing facial muscles and gives shape to your child’s face. A healthy mouth is a happy face! And who doesn’t love a cute little baby face?!
Healthy adult teeth
Permanent teeth develop under the gums, very close to the roots of baby teeth. Cavities can spread very quickly through the thin enamel of baby teeth and can be detrimental to the health of the adult teeth below. If cavities are left untreated, baby teeth can become infected, which can, in turn, cause further damage to the permanent tooth underneath.
Health and nutrition
If your baby is experiencing pain when they chew due to dental infection, this can lead to feeding issues. Nothing is worse than a cranky baby who won’t eat—especially since many times they cannot express why they are upset. Left unchecked, it can even result in nutritional deficiencies. Furthermore, if an infection spreads, it can impact other parts of the body.
Self-esteem and concentration
While your baby or young child may not care how goofy they look, eventually, their appearance will matter. Decayed or missing teeth can impact a child’s confidence, leading to low self-esteem and behavioral issues.
Dental health can also impact your child’s ability to concentrate. If a child is having dental pain, it can get in the way of them paying attention and learning in school. If emergency dental work is needed, this could mean missed school (and work for parents).
So, what should parents do?
It is recommended that parents schedule a dental checkup within 6 months of a child’s first tooth appearing and definitely by age one (regardless of how many teeth the child may have at this point). Why so early? As soon as teeth break through the gums, he or she can develop cavities.
Getting your child used to visiting the dentist from an early age is also a great way to begin developing a healthy relationship between your child and their dentist. It can be intimidating for a child to sit in a dentist chair and have a stranger looking around in their mouth! Parents can do a lot to help to dissipate any fears their young child may have.
Remember to get your child into the dentist at least once a year, if not twice! Routine dental checkups are important in order to prevent cavities and other oral health issues. These appointments also give parents the opportunity to learn more about healthy oral practices that they can encourage at home.
Looking for resources?
Families with children ages five and younger can call Skagit County’s ABCD program at (360) 416-1500 for help finding dental care for their children. For families who quality, some benefits of the program include:
- An initial dental exam
- Two dental exams per year (6 months apart)
- Three fluoride varnish applications per year
- Two parent education sessions per child per year
- Fillings and other dental work (as needed)
For more information about the ABCD program, visit our webpage at: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthFamily/dental.htm.