Those cute “baby teeth” (popularly known as milk teeth) are as important for babies and toddlers as permanent teeth are for older children and adults. Not only these milk teeth help the child in speech, eating and appearance; but they also have a very important job of guiding the incoming permanent teeth to their respective positions. The baby tooth stays inside the child’s mouth till the permanent, growing below it, is ready to come out of the gums. Due to the push by incoming permanent teeth, the milk tooth becomes loose and eventually falls out. The timing is important as the immature falling of the milk tooth results into filling up the space in the gum. This causes permanent deformity in the teeth structure. Simple and good oral habits including regular brushing, healthy eating etc. can eliminate any and all future oral issues.

Functions of Milk Teeth

1. Biting and Chewing
The most obvious yet important function of milk teeth is to help the child in chewing and biting food.

2. Nutrition
Children need a variety of nutrients for the perfect growth and for this, they need to consume a variety of food. If milk teeth are improper or limited, the child may refuse some of the food. Milk teeth help in the proper grinding of the food, which makes it easy to digest and absorb necessary nutrients.

3. Speech
Speaking is very crucial for a child’s personality development. Milk teeth, when positioned in a proper way, facilitate articulation of various sounds. It helps them form clear speech and impeccable pronunciation

4. Development of Jawbones and Facial Muscles
Teeth are important for the development of facial muscles and jawbones. Through chewing, facial muscles get their exercise and this, in turn, helps in the development of jawbones.

5. Excellent Oral Health
If the milk teeth get exposed to decaying, they can cause the beginning of periodontal disease due to which erosion of ligaments, gums and eventually bones might occur. The premature uprooting of milk teeth will cause space and health problems for the incoming permanent teeth. Educate your child about daily oral care. Gently rub the gums of the infants with a soft, damp and clean cloth after meals.

Facts about Milk Teeth

Normally, a child has 20 milk teeth that appear anytime between 6 months and 1 year of age. They continue to grow till 3 or 4 years of age. When the permanent teeth are ready to come out, milk teeth make way for them by dropping out. The falling starts at the age of 6 years with the two front lower teeth. By the age of 10 to 13 years of age, a child loses all milk molars.

The child’s first dental visit should be immediately with the dropping of the first milk tooth or before the first birthday. It is important to educate the child about oral hygiene and the sooner it learns, the better it will be.

When the milk teeth gets uprooted, the child experiences increased drooling, sore gums, appetite loss and disturbed sleep. For relief, they will try to chew their own fingers or toys.

However, care should be taken as chew unclean objects may cause diseases like diarrhea and fever. Start cleaning the child’s gums as soon as possible. Till the first year of age, use a soft and clean cloth to rub the gums gently. Then after, introducing a soft baby brush would be a good idea.

Start a pediatric fluoride toothpaste (500 ppm), if you reside in an area that has less natural fluoride in the water, by the age of two years. Once the child accepts the taste of this toothpaste, you may switch to 1000 ppm. At times when the baby falls asleep whilst feeding, it doesn’t swallow the last mouthful of milk. This milk remains around the teeth and causes decay. The recommended number of dental check-ups, in a year, for children is two. However, some children need more frequent visits due to poor oral condition or unusual oral growth.

Dr. Amruta Patel is a warm and compassionate dentist caring for the community of San Antonio, TX. Dr. Patel attended Marquette University, where she received both her dental degree and her bachelor’s degree. She practices at All About Smiles and specializes in cosmetic braces, endodontic treatments, implants, and veneers, as well as basic general dental services. Outside of practicing dentistry, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two dogs.