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Jul 16

Does Tooth Decay In Baby Teeth Affect Adult Teeth?

kids-brushing-teethWith summer kicking in full swing and the kids are out of school, many parents are taking advantage and bringing their kids in for checkups! As with most things, early detection and prevention is always the best method of treatment. Although there were many kids that joined our No Cavity Club, there were still too many that didn’t. Among those that didn’t, we’ve noticed a common concern from the parents – Will my kid’s baby cavities affect their adult teeth? We will answer this question and hopefully provide some insights on what parents should and shouldn’t worry about when it comes to their kid’s teeth.

Baby Teeth Are Temporary, Right?

Baby teeth are temporary. That’s a fact. They will fall out and get replaced by adult teeth at some point – another fact. Unfortunately, this is also the main reason why many parents feel too relaxed about their kid’s teeth. It’s the notion that baby teeth will eventually fall out, so there should not be a reason to feel overly concerned with cavities or other dental problems in baby teeth. Sounds reasonable, right? Wrong. There are many reasons to be concerned with babies and children developing dental problems no matter what age.

Babies get their first tooth as early as 4 months old, and before you know it, all 20 are out by the time they celebrate their 4th birthday. With a full set of teeth, your baby will be busy chomping away at a full menu of foods and snacks. However, as the eating activity levels increase, so does the cavity activity level.

Transitioning to Adult Teeth

Your child will start to develop their adult teeth at around age 5. The first baby tooth in will be the first one out. This process will continue until the last baby tooth is out at around age 12. But how does the baby tooth know when to leave and allow the new adult tooth to grow in? It doesn’t. The fact is, once the adult tooth is fully developed, it will push its way out, causing the baby tooth to ajar loose. As the child progresses in its development, their adult teeth are developing underneath the gums and are only ready to erupt when the time is right. There is no short cut to this process.

Cavities – How They Affect Baby Teeth

All cavities behave the same way whether it’s on a baby or adult tooth. When a baby tooth develops a cavity, the enamel layer begins to slowly erode. If untreated, the result could lead to a complete loss of the tooth. For more details on cavities, you could read my previous blog here. Once cavities are present, it just doesn’t stop at a single tooth. Because it is a bacteria, cavities will spread and attack neighboring teeth. Although cavities can cause a tremendous amount of physical pain, they also bring a lot of emotional distress to children. Cavities are dark and brownish in appearance, and some kids become self-conscious about the way it looks causing them to smile less. Eating and drinking could also be more difficult due to teeth sensitivity.

Baby Cavities – How They Affect Adult Teeth

Babies have a high tendency to develop cavities partly due to their high sugar based diet, but mainly due to the lack or difficulty of adequate oral care. The effects of cavities in children go beyond the primary tooth. Here are a few of the problems early cavities in children could affect long term.

ORTHODONTIC
If cavities are left untreated, early tooth loss could occur leaving prolonged empty spaces. This becomes a problem when the adult tooth is not ready to come through and occupy the space. The empty spaces will allow neighboring teeth to shift and naturally fill or take up the vacancies. This becomes a big problem once the adult tooth is ready to erupt, as there will not be adequate space for the tooth. What ends up happening is the adult tooth becomes misaligned. The misalignment of one tooth also impacts adjacent teeth as the mouth tries to adjust on the fly, creating a domino effect. Expensive orthodontic treatment may be needed to correct the bite and alignment of the teeth.

INFECTION
Cavities are essentially decay caused by bacteria in your mouth. As the bacteria grows and multiply, it will migrate below the gums, causing infection of the underlying adult tooth that is still in the development period. This infection is called an abscess and is very painful for the child. Other problems include delay or prevention of the developing adult tooth from erupting, and extraction of the tooth is required. Even if the underlying adult tooth survives, it may be malformed, discolored, or permanently stained.

HABITS
The biggest reason why cavities develop is due to a lack of or inadequate care. Thorough brushing and flossing is not practiced regularly. When a child develops a cavity, certain habits are being formed and reinforced. These habits often times carry over to adulthood. Establishing good habits in oral hygiene is so important given the link it has to your overall health. This sets the foundation for children to make healthy choices as they grow.

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Written by Dr. Kim H. Nguyen
Dr. Kim Nguyen

Owner of Mint Dental OC and is a leading dentist in Southern California.

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