"I wince every time I hear someone say that baby teeth aren't important because they're going to fall out anyway," laughs Dr. Stuart Katz, a family and general dentist for over 20 years.
"It's just not true. Those temporary baby teeth are very important because they hold a space for the permanent teeth and help guide them into the right position. If the baby teeth are lost prematurely, it can lead to the adult teeth shifting forward and become crowded."
According to Dr. Katz, another reason to make sure your little one visits the dentist on a regular basis is for the early detection of cavities.
"Cavities are caused by bacteria," explains Dr. Katz. "Bacteria doesn't just cause damage on one tooth—it affects multiple teeth and areas in the mouth. This is especially true for children, because they're not always as diligent about dental home care as their parents would like."
The result is that cavities begin to spread around the mouth as the bacteria gain a foothold.
"The first permanent teeth erupt at about six years old," Dr. Katz says. "Between the ages of six and about 12, the permanent teeth are sharing the arch with baby teeth. If the baby teeth develop cavities that are not restored promptly then the decay can spread to the permanent tooth. The key to avoiding this situation is to instill good dental habits in your children and to introduce them to the dentist early.
"If we see children regularly, we can nip this issue in the bud and put a filling in the baby tooth in a timely way so that the cavity doesn't spread to other teeth,” says Dr. Katz. “We want kids to have as few problems as possible with their permanent teeth, because they need to keep them for the rest of their lives."
Part of children's dental care is educating the parents.
"We explain to parents how they can help keep their kids' teeth healthy," says Dr. Katz, "They're doing their best, giving fruit rollups instead of candy and fruit juice instead of soda. But there's still a lot of sugar in those items. Water down the fruit juice and control the amount of sticky fruit rollups a child eats. Or better yet, try to prevent your child developing a sweet tooth in the first place."
Sound advice not only for teeth, but also for your child's overall general health.