Primary teeth are important for several reasons. They allow the child to chew properly, maintain space for the later eruption of the permanent teeth, and are needed for proper speech development. Early loss of primary teeth can lead to future space crowding problems as the permanent teeth erupt. Orthodontic correction may be required. In addition early loss of primary teeth may cause some psychosocial issues for the child due to speech or appearance problems.
Prior to the eruption of the child’s first tooth, parents should wipe the child’s mouth and gums with a clean damp cloth or gauze pad. Parents need to begin brushing a child’s teeth at approximately six months or when the first primary teeth begin to appear. The child’s first visit to the dentist should be 6 months after the first tooth erupts, but no later than 12 months of age.
“Baby bottle tooth decay” can be prevented by giving plain water at bedtime or during the night. Milk, sugar water, apple juice, or any liquid containing sugar should not be given to the child at bedtime as they can cause tooth decay if left on the teeth for extended periods of time.
Fluoride, whether in the drinking water or in the form of tablets or vitamins, has been proven to be up to 70 percent effective in the prevention of tooth decay. Parents should check with their dental or medical health care providers for instructions on when and how to get this protection.