Lee's Summit Journal

Small but mighty: Don’t neglect those baby teeth

When they come in, be sure to take care of your child’s teeth.
When they come in, be sure to take care of your child’s teeth. File photo

It’s OK, they’re only baby teeth, right?

It’s only OK if those baby teeth are taken care of properly and are part of a healthy mouth. They may only have a life span of a few years, but are so important for many reasons.

February is National Children’s Dental Health month, so it’s a good time to talk about why we need our kids to have good teeth from the beginning.

First, those teeth are all they have to chew with until around the age of 6 or 7 when the first permanent molars come in. Generally around the same time, they are losing the eight incisors and having new front teeth erupt. Consequently, they may not have very many functioning teeth at different times, so the ones they do have are critical.

If there is a diminished capacity to properly chew food, it can lead to poor nutrition and digestion issues even in our young people.

Children who do end up with cavities that are not restored can develop toothaches and abscesses, just like adults. However, that can happen more quickly in baby teeth. Since they are designed to only last a short time, any problems can rapidly involve the nerves of the teeth. Problems like that can lead to school absences, loss of concentration during class and irritability.

Should there be a problem with a baby tooth, many people will be of the opinion that we should just remove it instead of spending money on its restoration. Some of them can still be around at age 13 and up, and if the permanent tooth is close to coming in to take its place, then that’s fine.

But if we extract a baby tooth and the new tooth doesn’t come in right away, there can be shifting of the remaining teeth and it could give rise to potentially more complicated orthodontic issues.

Most everybody is aware of the need to brush and floss to ensure good oral health. Another major factor in strengthening teeth is fluoride, available through a variety of sources.

Even our youngest can benefit, and a small amount of a fluoridated toothpaste can be very beneficial when used twice a day. The most effective and easiest way to get fluoride is when it is in our public water system. Sadly in Lee’s Summit, the amount in our water is so low it is categorized as non-fluoridated, and consequently not effective.

Parents should consult with their family dentist about topical fluoride applications when their children are in for preventive visits. (Parents – would be good for you as well.)

Author Merle Nunemaker, a past president of the Missouri Dental Association, is in private practice in Lee’s Summit with Jungmeyer & Suresh Dental Enterprises. He also serves as a volunteer member of Lee’s Summit’s Health Education Advisory Board, a mayor-appointed, volunteer board that promotes and advocates community health by assessing health issues, educating the public and government agencies, developing plans to address health issues, encouraging partnerships and evaluating the outcomes.