There can, however, be long-term orthodontic repercussions if these teeth are lost too early (not to mention short-term pain and inconvenience caused by decaying teeth).
Baby teeth ‘hold the place’ of adult teeth. If lost early (before the adult tooth is ready to come up), the back teeth can drift forward and block out the adult tooth waiting below.
If drift is significant, it may be virtually impossible to move all the other teeth back. A permanent tooth extraction may be needed later.
Note how the blocked-out tooth (marked with the pink arrow) cannot come down into its spot as the teeth either side have tipped into its place.
Compare this to the bottom row of teeth where the adult teeth are lined up in an orderly fashion, their places held by the baby tooth above.
Ideally prevention is the best strategy. Starting from a young age helps your child to get used to the process of brushing baby teeth (if already too late for this then don’t despair – new habits can be formed too!). Even before the first teeth come in, a damp washer can be wiped over the gums. Dummies should never be dipped in honey. After about 12 months of age any bedtime bottles should be replaced with water.
Once the baby teeth are in place it is time to begin brushing twice a day (with adult assistance), as well as to introduce regular flossing. Water should be offered in place of juice or sugary drinks, whilst fresh fruit, vegetables and cheese should be selected over sweetened treats. Flushing with water after meals is also worthwhile.
When a baby tooth is lost early – how to prevent drift, crowding and permanent extractions
If, despite your best efforts, a baby tooth has to be lost early, there are ways to prevent it causing an orthodontic problem. If your dentist has a lot of experience with children they may anticipate tooth drifting and its consequences and send you to an orthodontist. Otherwise if they do not, it is wise to be proactive and bring it up yourself. Otherwise you can approach an orthodontist on your own for a consultation.
If needed, your orthodontist will arrange a simple holding arch which will hold space until the adult teeth come in.
If you are Sydney-based please visit this page to find out more about us - we have orthodontic offices in Maroubra and Bondi Junction.
Finally…Other common questions about baby teeth: ”which teeth fall out”? And “how many baby teeth fall out?”
The full compliment of baby teeth consists of 20 teeth which start to appear usually within the first few months of life and are all in place by about 3 years old.
All the baby teeth have an adult tooth equivalent which should replace the baby tooth somewhere between about 5 and 12 years old (on average).
The adult molars (6 year old molars, 12 year old molars and much later, the wisdom teeth) come up at the back (there is never a baby tooth there first for them to replace).
The most common pattern for the arrival of adult teeth is for the 6 year old molars to come up whilst the front 8 teeth begin to get loose (four front teeth top and bottom) and be replaced (most often the bottom ones first, but not always). The teeth further back may take a little longer to become loose and fall out.
Usually the front teeth get loose and fall out first, the teeth further back a little later. In most people by about age 11 or 12 all the baby teeth have fallen out and been replaced. This is only the most common pattern however – other patterns and timings can be quite normal.