Tooth decay and cavities in primary teeth are a common problem, so regular dentist appointments in childhood are essential. Clinicians warn that many parents are not aware of the crucial role that primary teeth play in the development and appearance of permanent teeth. If cavities appear on primary teeth, they will most likely spread to other teeth, even to first permanent teeth that may just be erupting. If a dentist takes a primary tooth out too early, before its time to come out naturally, the other teeth will move and this will affect the development of the child’s permanent dentition. As every dentist will confirm, primary teeth serve the functions of stimulating jaw development and maintaining space for permanent ones.
Set a good example to your children and take them to the dentist regularly. Interestingly, research shows that parents who regularly visit the dentist themselves tend to do the same with their children. It is estimated that about 86% of children whose parents have been to the dentist in the past year have had their teeth checked as well. It is good for children to get to know their dentist even before the first cavities appear; at the age of two at the latest. Take your child to the dentist regularly for preventive dental care; it may avert cavities, will surely make it easier to diagnose them on time and will prevent early tooth loss. Make sure your child knows that the dentist is their friend and will help keep their teeth healthy.
Pathological changes and dental procedures on primary teeth
Cavities in baby teeth develop the same way as in permanent ones – when bacteria within the mouth begin to eat away at the teeth. In addition, there are two contributing causes of caries that are fairly typical for young age: consuming large amounts of sugar and bad oral hygiene habits.
Caries eats its way through primary teeth quickly and tooth decay will soon reach the dental pulp (“nerve”). When this happens, it is essential to get treatment so the primary tooth stays in its place until it comes out naturally. A possible alternative is tooth removal, but we strongly advise against it because early loss of primary teeth affects placement of other teeth and increases the risk of orthodontic anomalies in future. Primary teeth need to be treated so that they remain in the oral cavity until it is time for them to come out naturally. They should be extracted only in rare cases when repeated pulp treatment yields no result.
Developing good oral hygiene habits from the first tooth
Good oral hygiene habits are developed in childhood. It is very important that parents motivate children and show them how to take proper care of their teeth. As soon as the first baby teeth erupt, parents should start cleaning them with an suitable toothbrush. The main goal of showing your child how to brush at an early age is teaching them the importance of maintaining everyday dental hygiene. As the child grows, their motor skills will improve and brushing will become more and more thorough. Like everything else, children learn best when imitating grown-ups, so parents should show them how to brush properly and encourage them to clean their teeth every day. Positive motivation is essential to learning: it is a good idea to praise your child’s efforts, whereas negative motivation – such as scaring children with dental treatment – is completely inappropriate.
Some parents believe that looking after primary teeth is not that important because they are only temporary. This is not the case; keeping primary teeth healthy will prevent tooth loss which can cause orthodontic anomalies and expose the child to unnecessary pain and stressful dental treatment. Primary teeth hygiene teaches the child good hygiene habits and proper teeth brushing.
Fissure sealant procedure – preventive procedure on permanent teeth
Sealing of dental fissures (recesses on the biting surfaces of teeth) is a procedure that successfully prevents the decay of newly erupted permanent teeth. It is completely painless and involves no drilling. Tooth surfaces are thoroughly cleaned and sealant is placed on teeth (made of composite or glass ionomer cement materials). Sealants are the same colour as the tooth and aesthetically flawless. They should be applied as soon as permanent teeth come through – around age 6 for the first set of molars and between the ages 10-12 for the second. Getting the procedure done at a later point is less common since the recesses are already contaminated with bacteria, but it may in some cases still prove beneficial.
Before applying sealants teeth are unprotected and susceptible to decay because pits and grooves on chewing surfaces are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria that cause cavities.
Teeth that have been sealed with composite material or glass ionomer cement are protected from decay because sealant flows into pits and grooves and forms a hard shield that keeps food and bacteria from getting in.