Baby teeth (also known as primary or deciduous teeth) are twenty in number. They are gradually replaced during childhood and the teenage years by 32 permanent adult teeth.
Both baby and adult teeth are located and shaped according to the role they play in the mouth. The front teeth are incisors, and are responsible for cutting food. The eye teeth (or canines) are shaped to tear food, while the back teeth (molars) are responsible for grinding.
Each baby tooth also has a very important part to play in minding the appropriate space in the jaw for the permanent tooth that is to follow. Premature loss of a baby tooth can compromise this space relationship, and lead to crowding later in life.
Teeth are also involved in the process of speech, and are of obvious cosmetic significance. It follows that if the baby teeth are abnormal or damaged, it can have an adverse effect upon a child’s development and personality.
It is therefore necessary to have a child’s teeth regularly assessed by a dentist to ensure that no problems arise during these vital years of growth.
Dental caries, or the process of holes forming in teeth, is an insidious process. Although invisible to the untrained eye, a tooth can become seriously damaged by the rapid decay of its surface enamel. Baby teeth may also break, become infected and even damage the following adult tooth if not properly attended to by a dentist.
A routine dental examination can also take into account the adverse effects of thumb sucking and tooth grinding, the space available for the following adult teeth, and congenital or hereditary anomalies. It is also important to check for disease in the tissues that support the teeth – the gums.
The overuse of a bottle containing milk or cordials can lead to bottle caries, ringbarking of the teeth, and destruction of an infant’s smile.
As soon as teeth appear in the mouth, they need to be carefully maintained. Tooth brushing should be more than a pre-bedtime ritual, it should be a supervised procedure, performed at least twice a day. Irreversible damage can be done by the incorrect use of a toothbrush, and parents have a responsibility to teach their children the correct brushing technique from an early age.