It can be easy to underestimate the importance of primary teeth, also known as baby teeth. They don’t stick around for long—a child will have them for between 5 and 10 years, and then they are replaced by permanent, or adult, teeth. Even when this is the case, however, it’s highly important for your children to practice healthy dental care habits to keep their primary teeth in tip-top shape. Here are 4 reasons that primary teeth are so important.
Space savers for permanent teeth
While baby teeth occupy the gum line, there are permanent teeth forming below them underneath the gums. In fact, the permanent teeth actually develop from the same root germs as primary teeth, which means that the primary teeth have a central role in guiding permanent teeth eruptions. And when a primary tooth falls out prematurely, it can cause permanent teeth that have already grown in to move into the space, leaving little room for the permanent teeth below to erupt.
The first 3 years in a child’s life are considered the most intensive stage for language acquisition and the average child develops most of his or her speech skills between the ages of 2 and 5. It’s no coincidence, then, that the primary teeth come in between 4 months and 3 years of age. These teeth are crucially important for proper speech acquisition. During the speech acquisition stage, a child will learn how to create various sounds in the mouth, many of which directly involve the use of teeth—such as the “f”, “th”, and “d” sounds.
Another function of primary teeth is, of course, chewing. Primary teeth help children break down food in the mouth thoroughly so that they can maintain good nutrition. Children with malformed or decayed primary teeth are more likely to be underweight and exhibit dietary deficiencies.
Preparation for adult teeth
The three aforementioned roles that primary teeth play in a child’s development make them important enough to clean and protect. And while of course, it might not be a fundamental function of primary teeth, primary teeth also give children the opportunity to practice healthy dental habits before their permanent teeth grow in. So while you might encourage your children to care for their teeth in order to foster healthy speech development, nutrition, and permanent tooth growth, you can also see primary tooth care as a preparatory step for caring for permanent teeth.