In this Youtube video, Dr Tabitha Chng, Dental Specialist in Paedodontics (Children Dentistry), is giving a talk on the children dental health, focusing on the various stages of teeth development in a young child. As the talk is in Mandarin, we have summarised the key points from the talk below.
Are baby teeth important?
Yes! Although baby teeth will be replaced by permanent teeth eventually, they have important functions such as:
- Development of oral facial muscles
Having a nice smile is important for psychosocial interaction and for building of one’s self confidence. Studies show that children with badly decayed teeth tend to hide their teeth when they smile as compared to kids with healthy teeth.
But most importantly, baby teeth save space for the child’s future permanent teeth. When the child loses a tooth prematurely due to accident or decay, teeth on the either side of the open space may move into (encroach) the open space, causing the permanent tooth to have insufficient space to grow into. The new permanent tooth may then grow out of its proper position and can affect positioning of other teeth, ie. crowded teeth.
What are some commonly faced issues with baby teeth?
Dental caries (also known as dental decay) is the most common dental issue seen in children below six. A study done in Singapore (2009) reported that dental caries have a prevalence of 40% among 3 to 6 year old children, while another local study (2014) conducted among 18 to 48 month old infants reported caries prevalence of 48%.
By the age of 2 to 3 years old, the child would have his complete set of dentition. And his primary molars (back teeth) would only be replaced with permanent teeth when he turns 10 to 12.
If dental decay is present and left untreated, it would eventually worsen and affect the nerve of the tooth. This will result in a series of problems, including toothache, infection and facial swelling. The child may have issues eating, sleeping and schooling due to the discomfort. The appearance of the decayed tooth will also become yellowish and black, affecting the smile of the child. In certain cases, the decay may also spread to the permanent dentition.
Therefore, baby teeth are important, and it is crucial to protect them.
What is the best way to protect your child’s baby teeth?
1) Good dental home care routine is key.
Brush your child’s teeth two times a day using a fluoridated toothpaste. Before a child turns 7 or 8, they will need the assistance of adults to brush thoroughly. In younger children, brushing must be done after the last milk feed.
(Watch video from 5:33 to watch step by step guide on how to brush your toddler’s teeth.)
2) Regular visits to a child dentist.
Your child is recommended to have their first dental visit by the age of one. During the appointment, a thorough check will be done to pick up any abnormalities or early signs of decay. Dental treatment can also be carried out to prevent tooth decay, such as fluoride treatment and dental sealant. Fluoride treatment (or varnish) strengthens the tooth enamel while dental sealant is a thin layer of protective barrier applied to molars that have deep pits and grooves.
Early Mixed Dentition
At the age of 6 to 12, a child transits from having baby teeth only to early mixed dentition where both primary and permanent teeth have erupted in the mouth. We explore some of the common questions asked by parents.
When should permanent teeth erupt?
The eruption of permanent teeth generally starts in children aged 5 to 6 years old. Subsequently, 3 to 4 permanent teeth can be expected to erupt every year.
If you find that it has been more than six months since the baby tooth was lost and the permanent tooth has still not erupt, it is recommended that you bring your child to see a Paedodontist / child dentist for an evaluation of any possible complications.
What to do if my child has two rows of teeth?
This happens when the permanent teeth erupts before the baby teeth are out, and two rows of teeth can be seen in the oral cavity. You are recommended to bring your child to see a Paedodontist / child dentist in order to evaluate whether the baby teeth will come out naturally on its own. If it does not, a tooth extraction may be needed.
My child’s teeth looks misaligned, is orthodontic treatment required?
It is recommended for children to have their first visit to the orthodontist no later than 7 years old. While not all misaligned cases in young children would require early interceptive treatment, here are some examples which may prompt the orthodontist to suggest otherwise:
- Under or overbite: top teeth are far ahead of or behind bottom teeth
- Crossbite: child’s jaw shifts to one side or the other
- Crowded or spaced teeth
When is the best time for orthodontic treatment?
Teenagers generally start full orthodontic treatment at the age of 12 to 16, when all of their permanent teeth have erupted.
Will orthodontic treatment loosen my child’s teeth?
During the start of braces treatment, it is normal to feel that the teeth is shaky or loose as they are being moved into position. However, it will not cause the teeth to fall out. Once your child’s teeth has been repositioned, they will no longer be loose as long as there are healthy teeth and gums.
How can I prevent my children’s teeth from being misaligned?
First, it is important to understand the main reasons for misaligned teeth:
- Genetics: determine size and position of teeth and jaw
- Bad habits: prolonged use of pacifiers, milk bottles and thumb sucking
- Mouth breathing: compared to breathing with the nose, mouth breathing causes the upper jaw to be more narrow
- Early loss of teeth
Therefore, wean your child off sucking on objects early, encourage them to breathe with their nose and maintain good oral hygiene habits to avoid early loss of teeth.
Look out for any early signs of misaligned teeth, such as difficulty speaking, swallowing, or any abnormalities in facial or jaw development. Early intervention can help to prevent more serious problems from developing.
Choosing a Paedodontist / Child Dentist
As your child goes through various changes in the development of their teeth during childhood, it is important to find a Paedodontist / child dentist that you can trust.
1) Look for one who is not only experienced in treating children, but also enjoys it.
2) A positive relationship with your Paedodontist / child dentist will help your child enjoy his/her dental visits.