Baby Teeth Basics: Why Do They Matter?

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— It’s always exciting when a child’s first little tooth is lost and the Tooth Fairy arrives to perform her mythical magic!

It also means that soon more baby teeth will exfoliate, making way for those all-important permanent teeth to erupt. But why are baby teeth—also known as primary or deciduous teeth (because they’re shed)—important for childhood health and wellness? And do they impact oral health into adulthood?

Baby teeth are important space holders for permanent teeth.

It’s a common misconception that baby teeth don’t matter because they eventually fall out, and it makes sense to assume that the early loss of a baby tooth due to decay or trauma isn’t a big deal. But that’s not the case. Baby teeth are important space holders for permanent teeth, and if they’re lost too soon, the spacing and alignment of a child’s permanent teeth could be negatively affected. Think of it this way: Our jaws are too small for permanent teeth when we’re born, but as we grow, adequate space is created. When our permanent teeth erupt, they dissolve the roots of our baby teeth, which then become loose and are lost. If baby teeth fall out prematurely, permanent teeth may become crowded, which can make oral hygiene more challenging and increase the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. 

Baby teeth enable a child to eat a variety of nutritious foods.

It’s also important to consider that healthy baby teeth enable a child to eat a variety of nutritious foods without pain or discomfort. Imagine trying to eat firm fruits, crunchy nuts, chewy meats, or crisp vegetables without a full set of teeth. Each toothincluding each baby toothhas a particular function in the mastication process, such as tearing or grinding. If even one tooth is missing, chewing may be incomplete and/or painful, which can lead to the avoidance of nutrient-dense foods, potentially establishing poor eating habits that could last into adulthood.

Missing or decaying baby teeth can impact a child’s social life.

Finally, because we typically shed our first primary tooth around age 6, and the rest are lost by about age 12, missing or decaying baby teeth can impact a child’s social life. Embarrassment due to rotting teeth or bad bad breath may lead to low self-esteem that can last into adulthood.

So take care of those little teeth—they’re just as important as their permanent replacements! Forming good oral hygiene habits in early childhood not only decreases the risk of tooth decay and other dental problems, but it also sets a child up for a lifetime of healthy, confident smiles.