How Important Are ‘Baby’ Teeth?

By Dr. Randall Lawson

We’ve all had experiences with primary teeth (known to most of us as ‘baby’ teeth) if not with children with whom we are acquainted then certainly with our own teeth. I think, however, that few of us know the importance of these ‘beginner’s’ teeth. I would like to share some facts about primary teeth and their importance to the health and welfare of their owners.

There are twenty teeth present in a full set of primary teeth: 8 incisors, 4 canines and 8 molars. The lower central incisors are usually the first to erupt at around the age of 9 months and are typically followed in short order by the upper central incisors. Upper and lower lateral incisors generally come in within a few months time. Next on the scene will probably be the first molars, top and bottom, at about 18 months, although the canine teeth also appear at about this same and may come in interspersed with the first molars. Last to arrive are the second molars at around 2 years, giving them their common name of 2-year molars.

Primary teeth are typically lost beginning with the first to come in- the lower central incisors. These are usually lost between the ages of 5 and 7. The lateral incisors are lost between 6 and 8 followed, generally, by the first molars between the ages of 9 and 11. Finally the second molars and canines are lost between 9 and 12. Keep in mind that these are averages and some teeth may come in or be lost at different times or in different order- if you are concerned you should consult with your dentist.

So they come and go so quickly why can’t we just neglect primary teeth….why fix cavities when these teeth are just going to fall out anyway. Well, as we’ve seen above, some of them hang around until your child is 11 or 12 years old. That can be a terribly long time to have a toothache or an active infection. These teeth should be taken care of for this reason alone but there is yet a second reason to care for baby teeth. They are the place holders for a child’s permanent teeth. If a primary tooth is lost prematurely, whether due to decay or from extraction, the teeth around it will begin to shift into the space it once occupied. When this happens it can block the permanent replacement teeth from coming into their correct position unless interceptive treatment is given. They may come in to the side or they may be completely prevented from coming in at all. This shifting of teeth can be prevented by placing a space maintainer to keep teeth from moving out of their proper position. If this is not done then the resulting problems will likely require orthodontic treatment to correct in order to prevent further problems. Ideally these problems would be prevented by good home care, limiting sugar in children’s diets and regular dental check-ups. Preventing problems before they begin is much easier than having to correct them once they have occurred. Further advice on care of baby teeth can be found on the website of The American Dental Association at www.ada.org or at www.collegeavenuedental.com. As always- thanks for reading.

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About the author

Randall Lawson is a practicing local dentist with long standing roots to the area. A native of Winchester, Dr. Lawson graduated from Illinois College in 1981 and from The University of Illinois College of Dentistry in 1985. He and his wife Mary Anne reside in Jacksonville and have two adult children. Dr. Lawson’s practice, College Avenue Dental, is dedicated to serving patients’ dental needs with care and compassion.

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