Your baby is busy growing a grand total of 20 milk teeth, yep, TWENTY. The complete set consists of eight incisors, four canines, and eight molars. They might be tiny, but every tooth has its own very important function.

It’s true that eventually, milk teeth will fall out to make way for adult teeth, but we cannot stress how important it is to look after baby teeth. What’s scary is that this message doesn’t seem to be sinking in, and according to a recent NHS report almost half of under eight-year-olds and a third of children aged five have tooth decay.

The University of Dundee’s most recent trial concludes that ‘the best way to manage tooth decay is not by drilling it out or sealing it in – it’s by preventing it in the first place.’ Scotland’s Chief Dental Officer Tom Ferris said ‘the key to success in prevention lies within families and communities’.

We ask Jemma aka The Mummy Dentist to explain why it’s important to look after your baby’s precious milk teeth.

Teething – and how it affects what your baby eats

Baby teeth typically start to appear around six months of age, although you may notice the signs of teething a lot earlier on. Of course, this will vary from child to child, along with most developmental milestones. Six months is the time when most parents will start to wean their baby, and a healthy mouth is best for baby to be able to experience enjoyment from a variety of tastes and textures.

Incisors

Called the ‘incisors’, these are the baby’s front teeth – the cute toothy pegs that usually make the first appearance. They have a sharp, flat edge ideal for biting and cutting into food.

Canines

These are ‘corner’ teeth, which are often referred to as ‘fangs’. They’re sharp, with a pointed surface that grips and tears food.

Molars

These are the wider back teeth that have a large flat surface for biting. The molars are best at chewing, crushing and grinding food.

How do baby teeth affect my child’s speech?

Teeth play an important role when it comes to learning how to speak. Together with our vocal cords, various parts of our mouths help produce sounds. Missing or misaligned teeth can create a challenge: teeth help to control airflow out of the mouth, and some sounds are made by the tongue striking against the teeth. Did you know, teeth help to produce many important sounds, including ‘s’, ‘f’, ‘v’, ‘ch’, ‘sh’, and ‘th’.

Why is it important for my baby to learn how to sip from a cup?

The prolonged use of a dummy or a bottle can have a dramatic effect on the position of your baby’s teeth. It’s recommended to introduce an open cup from six months of age, so baby can learn how to ‘sip’.

Choose an open cup as opposed to a spouted or sealed cup. Spouts are thought to impede natural tongue movement, while seals encourage baby to suck and not sip.

From six months of age, you’ll notice your baby will start ‘babbling’, and experimenting with different sounds and volumes. ‘Sipping’ supports early speech patterns by promoting oro-facial muscle and jaw development. Sipping also reduces the risk of decay by preventing liquids from pooling around the upper front teeth.

Which sippy cup is best for my baby?

Babies love to mimic, so what better way to teach your baby how to sip than to sit down at mealtimes together and show them how to drink properly?

Babycup First Cups are a brilliant way to teach your little one healthy sipping habits for life. They’re baby-safe, mini-open cups designed for babies and young children, designed with baby-sized proportions in mind. The slim drinking edge and small circumference of the cup encourages liquid to funnel into the mouth instead of down your baby’s cheeks, so spills are kept to a minimum.

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Tooth decay in milk teeth can cause long term problems

Your child will be around six years old when their milk teeth will start to loosen and fall out and permanent teeth start to come through. It’s not uncommon for some baby teeth to stick around until the age of 12 years, or even older.

If milk teeth have to be extracted early due to tooth decay, you may find this will have an impact on the position and health of the adult tooth waiting to come through in its place. If a baby tooth is removed too early, the gap for the adult tooth may close, causing teeth to ‘impact’ or grow into funny positions. This can lead to the need for further dental or orthodontic treatment with braces.

Shocking statistics from Public Health England state that “almost nine out of ten hospital tooth extractions among children aged 0 to 5 years are due to preventable tooth decay and tooth extraction is still the most common hospital procedure in 6 to 10-year-olds.”

The health of your children’s teeth affects confidence

You might find your baby’s appearance changes dramatically once their tiny teeth appear. Say ‘goodbye’ to the gummy grin, and ‘hello’ to a very cute toothy smile. Once children are old enough to interact with each other, appearance does become important; the health a child’s teeth can massively affect their self-confidence, and how they develop socially.

The impact of toothache

Toothache can affect many areas of your child’s life, including their eating and sleeping habits, and their socialising. Unfortunately, it’s true that children who require dental work will often experience repeated infections, and pain, that may require treatment with antibiotics, and /or eventually a general anaesthetic operation.

Overall wellbeing

Good oral health is so important for a child’s overall wellbeing. Issues with milk teeth will often create a knock-on effect causing other issues, such as poor nutrition, failure to thrive, or even childhood obesity.

Top tips on preventing dental decay in children

  • Avoid sugary food and drinks. They’re the primary culprit when it comes to cavities. The enamel on your baby’s teeth is relatively thinner, making their teeth much more vulnerable
  • Babies under one year of age should only be offered their usual milk (breast or formula) or plain water
  • Avoid frequent snacking, and offer fruit and vegetables as a snack, avoiding sticky, chewy foods
  • Establish a good daily regime by brushing twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste
  • Ensure you attend regular dental check-ups for the whole family

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Article by Dr Jemma Hook aka The Mummy Dentist

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