Why Do We Have Baby Teeth?

Child with Milk Teeth

Baby teeth may not seem all that important, but they are extremely essential to the development of a growing child’s jaws by preserving space for adult teeth.Most babies aren’t born with any visible teeth in their mouths. The 20 baby teeth or primary teeth that we have, begin poking through our gums (erupting) between the ages of 6 months to 2 years old. Naturally, baby teeth are needed for proper chewing and are important in the development of speech and normal oromuscular function. However, the most important role of baby teeth is actually preserving space for our adult teeth until they can grow up underneath.

The reason we don’t simply grow a singular set of teeth is that our jaws are just not large enough to accommodate the number and size of our adult teeth right away (we wouldn’t want our jaws to be large enough either because giving birth would be near impossible). While our adult teeth are busy forming underneath our gums inside our jaws, our baby teeth keep space available so that adult teeth can erupt normally into our mouths. By distributing chewing forces into our jaws they aid in the development of those bones. They also make the process of adult teeth erupting much more organized since baby teeth are holding their place in line for them. Our baby molars are the most important teeth in this process because they are much wider than the adult teeth that grow to replace them.

If a baby tooth is removed early because of cavities, some of the space needed for our adult teeth in the dental arch is lost and this can lead to very crowded teeth when the rest of adult teeth grow in later on. Also this can sometimes delay the eruption of the permanent tooth that was growing below it, since bone can fill in over top of it, though this delay depends on other factors as well.

Primary Molar Cavity and Lost SpaceMany people out there think cavities in our baby teeth aren’t such a big deal since we end up losing them anyway, but the space we need for the normal eruption of our adult teeth is also lost when we get cavities between our baby teeth, especially large cavities between our baby molars. I included a picture to the right where you can see some space that was lost because of a cavity.

One of the best ways to give your child every chance for straight teeth, is to do a good job cleaning their baby teeth at home and to get them in to see the dentist for regular check ups. This may not prevent the need for braces later on, but healthy baby teeth definitely will make the transition to adult teeth less complicated and make things easier for your orthodontist since they won’t have to try to regain space that was lost due to cavities.

About the author

Scott Frey is a reknown Orthodontist, professional speaker, and founder of the More than Smiles Movement. Follow him on Twitter.

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