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The importance of dental health

Zero to Five

When a child is born, all 20 of the primary teeth that will appear over the next two years are already present in its jaws. These teeth are almost fully developed but remain hidden under the gums until the front teeth begin to emerge at about six or seven months.

Even though these baby teeth will be replaced by permanent teeth, they are needed for jaw development and positioning of the permanent teeth. Baby teeth that are missing or prematurely lost may need to have their natural space held open, usually by a little device called a space maintainer.

Permanent teeth start to grow at about age six, and teething continues until the twelve-year molars appear. So the "temporary" teeth are actually needed for several years.

Incisors are typically present until six to eight years, while the canines and molars are present until 11 to 13 years.

Children’s teeth get plaque just as adult teeth do. Children’s gums are also susceptible to problems plaque can cause.

Children should not sleep with a bottle of milk, formula or fruit juice, or they risk early, serious decay.

"Baby bottle tooth decay" is a condition in which many teeth are decayed, possibly severely. It is the result of teeth being exposed for long periods of time to liquids containing sugars. Sugars are used by bacteria in the mouth as an energy source. In the process, the bacteria produce acids that lead to cavities.

If too many primary teeth are lost prematurely due to untreated decay, this will affect the child’s ability to chew. This may affect digestion and/or nutrition, which in turn will affect physical and mental growth and development.

Missing teeth also can affect development of the jaw and bone growth necessary to create proper space and relationships for permanent teeth. Speech patterns and development can be affected, and the mouth’s appearance can also harm the child’s self esteem. Untreated decay can lead to pain and infection, and may even become life threatening.

Dental health professionals now recommend wiping a baby’s gums with a clean damp cloth after each feeding, and brushing as soon as the first tooth appears. Regular visits to a dentist are recommended by a child’s first birthday.

- Reprinted with permission of zerotofive.org