By: Dr. Heather Hradek
We lived in a snack based toddler culture. Believe me, I know. I have a 4 year old daughter and every activity she has, from Sunday school to soccer practice to preschool classes all have a snack involved. Unfortunately, along with all these snacks and juiceboxes, come the cavities. As a dentist, I follow the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s recommended guidelines for fluoride toothpaste for all ages to help to prevent cavities, but sometimes they still sneak through. The parents of many of my pediatric patients often ask why we have to fill these cavities—they’re in baby teeth, so they’re just going to lose them anyways, right?
Well, it’s not that simple. Yes, they’re going to lose these baby teeth, but baby teeth are important too. Baby teeth are built different than adult teeth. They’re smaller, obviously, but that means the enamel, the thick outer covering protecting the teeth, is thinner. This means cavities can break through the outer covering quicker, exposing dentin, the softer underlying layer. Once a cavity breaks through to the dentin, it can grow very quickly, and since the tooth is smaller, can reach the nerve quickly. For your child, this means this tooth can become painful and potentially infected.
Dental pain from cavities can affect your child’s ability to eat a well-balanced meal, which can ultimately affect and possibly stunt their growth and development. Dental pain can also affect your child’s ability to concentrate and learn at school and lead to missing class. In fact, dental disease leads to children missing more than 51 million hours of school each year. Untreated cavities mean there is a higher level of bacteria in their mouth, which increases their risk for even more cavities to develop, potentially on the permanent teeth as they erupt in the mouth.
So why don’t we just pull these teeth? That is an option, but baby teeth are an important space maintainer for the permanent teeth that will come in later. Losing those teeth prematurely can affect the growth and development of the jaw, leading to severe crowding and a need for braces to recreate space for the permanent tooth to come in. Sometimes we have no option but removing baby teeth in cases of severe decay or infections, so we have to use space maintainer devices to try to hold the space, but there is nothing better than what God gave us, so if we are able to maintain the natural tooth, we prefer to.
Baby teeth matter. We try to treat cavities early, while they are small so as to minimize your child’s discomfort and make it more easy to maintain those teeth until it’s time for them to come out naturally. As a parent, you can help to prevent cavities by using a fluoride toothpaste at home. For children 2 and under, use a rice-sized amount. For over 2, use a pea sized amount. When you can trust that your child will spit, you can start to incorporate a fluoride mouthrinse. When back teeth start to touch, around age 3, start to incorporate flossing to prevent cavities in between teeth. At their regular dental checkups, we will recommend a fluoride varnish for a high level of fluoride that lingers around for up to 21 days to help prevent cavities.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists recommend children’s first dental visit around age 1 or six months after their first tooth erupts, so we start seeing children any time after that. Is your child due for a visit? Give us a call today at (219)929-9289.
Chesterton Family Dental is the general dental office of Dr. Mystie Pieters, Dr. Heather Hradek, and Dr. Robert Pieters providing comprehensive dental care for the entire family.