The first set of teeth that a child gets are commonly called “baby teeth”. The technical names for these teeth are “primary” teeth or “deciduous” teeth. Children have 20 baby teeth in all, 10 upper and 10 lower.
Even though these teeth will be replaced by permanent teeth, they serve an important role in the development and positioning of the permanent teeth. The position of the baby teeth (especially the molars) helps to guide the permanent teeth into the proper position. If a baby tooth is lost too early, it can cause the permanent teeth to move out of position and they may end up blocking each other as they come in.
Tooth Decay in Babies
If baby teeth are allowed to decay so severely that they cannot be fixed, they may have to be extracted. If this happens, the dentist may recommend that a device called a space maintainer be placed around the remaining teeth to keep them from moving and interfering with the permanent teeth that will grow in. Of course, the best way to deal with this problem is to avoid tooth decay in the first case. This can be accomplished by limiting the amount of sugary foods that a child consumes (soda, juice, candy and other sweets), helping the child keep his or her teeth clean, and regular dental visits.
Spaces Between Teeth in Babies
Sometimes parents notice that there are spaces in between the baby teeth and they worry about the appearance of the child’s teeth. Having spaces between the baby teeth is actually a good thing because it means there is a better chance of having enough space for the permanent teeth to grow in without crowding. The permanent teeth are generally larger than the baby teeth they replace and they need more space to grow in.
Many children have a habit of sucking on a pacifier or a thumb. This comforts them and often helps them sleep. Early in life, these habits are harmless and can even provide some benefits, but later on, a thumb-sucking or pacifier habit can lead to misalignment of the teeth. It’s best to try to wean children off their pacifier once they are two years old, and the habit should definitely be stopped by age four to avoid tooth positioning problems. If you’re having trouble stopping these habits, your dentist can talk with you about some options that may be helpful.