Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why should I worry about these baby teeth?

I am often asked why we should bother filling baby teeth, the most common follow up is - "Aren't they just going to fall out?"  The answer to whether or not you should fill baby teeth is yes and no.  The first thing to realize is that not all baby teeth fall out at 6 years old like the front teeth do.  Some front teeth don't even make their way out of the mouth until 8 or 9 years old!  It's funny to think that we all lost our baby teeth but nobody remembers losing them.  In fact, the molars do not fall out until 11-13 years old!  Therefore if a child is 11 and the radiograph (x-ray) shows a primary tooth (baby tooth) with a small cavity but that tooth is going to fall out in the next few months, we typically don't treat it.  Averages are averages, however, so it depends on the dental age of your child, not the chronological age.

The truth is, the baby teeth play several key roles in developing the mouth while they are present.  Primary  teeth are not just there to practice with, they guide the permanent teeth into the mouth and provide an important space holder for the permanent teeth.  They also allow your child to chew which impacts nutrition and digestion.  Without proper nutrition, physical and mental growth are impaired.  Without their primary teeth children are often lacking in appropriate bone to house their permanent teeth.  Chewing affects the growth and remodeling of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) as well.  Primary teeth also help to develop speech and language, which, if lost, can affect speech patterns.  (You have all heard the Christmas song, "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth".) 

The biggest reason to fix primary teeth is that these teeth have less enamel and dentin (the second layer of tooth).  This means that cavities can progress much faster than they do in permanent teeth.  This can lead to pain and infection which can threaten the health of the permanent teeth growing in the jaws.  It happens rarely in the United States, but children die yearly due to dental infections spreading into the brain and neck starting from a primary tooth.   This is why the Department of Health and Human Services considers untreated primary teeth serious enough to charge a parent with child neglect.

The good news is that cavities are 100% preventable.  We want your child to be healthy so make dental appointments a priority.  If your child is unfortunate enough to suffer from dental caries (cavities) we can fix them when they are still small and prevent further damage or problems.  Overall we look at is as a team effort between our office, the parent, and other healthcare providers to keep your child happy, healthy, and comfortable as they go through their daily life.