Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth

Your child won't keep his or her first teeth forever, but that doesn't mean those tiny pearly whites don't need conscientious care. Maintaining your child's dental health now will provide health benefits well into adulthood, as primary (baby) teeth serve some extremely important functions.

Kids developing jaws and teeth.

For one thing, primary teeth serve as guides for the eruption of permanent (adult) teeth, holding the space into which these new teeth will erupt. The crowns (tops) of the permanent teeth actually push against the roots of the baby teeth, causing them to resorb, or melt away. In this way, the adult teeth can take their proper place.

What's more, your child's primary teeth will be there for most of childhood, helping your child to bite, chew and speak. For the first six or so years, he or she will be relying on primary teeth exclusively to perform these important functions. Until around age 12, your child will have a mix of primary and permanent teeth. You will want to make sure those teeth stay healthy and are lost naturally — when it's time.

Your Child's First Teeth

Kids mouth anatomy.

Your child's 20 baby teeth will begin to appear usually between six and nine months, though in some cases it may start as early as three months or as late as twelve months. The two lower front teeth tend to erupt first, followed by the two upper ones, these teeth are called the central incisors. Then the neighboring teeth called lateral incisors will erupt too. The first molars come in next, followed by the canines (eyeteeth). And finally, the last teeth to erupt are the two-year molars. Sometimes your baby can experience teething discomfort during this process. If so, there are courses of action to help make your child more comfortable.

Your infant's gums should be gently wiped after each feeding with a water-soaked gauze pad or damp washcloth. As soon as the first tooth erupts, establish a daily brushing routine with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and no more than a thin smear of fluoridated toothpaste. Your child may need your help with this important task until about the age of 6.

Your Child's First Dental Appointment

Age one dental visit

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that your child see a dentist by his/her first birthday, or as early as the first tooth erupts. Though this may sound early, learning proper pediatric oral hygiene techniques, checking for cavities, and watching for developmental problems is extremely important.

There are a number of forms of tooth decay that can affect babies and small children. Early Childhood Caries (tooth decay) can develop rapidly, progressing from the hard, outer enamel layer of a tooth into the softer, inner dentin in six months or less.

Most of all, it's important for your child to have a positive experience at the dental office as he/she will be a regular visitor for years to come.

Pediatric Dental Treatments

There are a variety of dental treatments offered to prevent tooth decay in children, or to save or repair teeth when necessary. They include:

Topical Fluoride — Fluoride incorporates into the enamel of teeth, making it harder and more resistant to decay. Although there is a small amount of fluoride in toothpastes and in some drinking water supplies, a higher concentration can be applied professionally to your child's teeth for maximum protection.

Dental Sealants — A plastic coating can be applied at the dental office to prevent cavities by sealing the little grooves on the chewing surfaces of back teeth known as “pits and fissures.” These little crevices become the perfect environments for decay-causing bacteria. Immature tooth enamel is more permeable and therefore less resistant to tooth decay. Dental sealants are easy to apply and provide years of protection (Watch Dental Sealant Video).

Root Canal Treatment — Perhaps you have had a root canal treatment yourself, to save an injured or severely decayed tooth. Well, sometimes children need root canals, too. In children these are called pulpotomies or pulpectomies. As mentioned above, baby teeth are important guides to the permanent teeth that are already forming beneath your child's gums. Therefore, saving them from premature loss can help prevent a malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite) that requires orthodontic treatment.

Bonding — Chips and minor fractures to front teeth — common childhood occurrences — can be repaired with tooth-colored bonding materials. These lifelike resins made of plastic and glass can be used on baby teeth as well as permanent teeth and last until the youngster has completed facial growth (Watch Bonding Video).

Orthodontic Concerns

Orthodontic Problems.

By around age 7, most malocclusions have become evident. Interceptive orthodontic treatment around this time can help direct proper tooth positioning and/or jaw growth, eliminating or simplifying the need for later treatment. There are many orthodontic problems that can be detected early and are examples of why a trained professional should evaluate your child during his/her growth and development.

Sports & Your Child's Teeth

If your child is active in sports, a custom-made mouthguard is a highly recommended safeguard. According to the American Dental Association, an athlete is 60 times more likely to suffer dental harm when not wearing one of these protective devices. A custom mouthguard is made specifically for your child using a model of his or her teeth. This will offer greater protection than an off-the-shelf model. It's an investment that pays off highly in the form of reduced pain, suffering — and dental expenses down the road!

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Consequences of Tooth Loss.If you have lost any of your teeth, you no doubt realize there are consequences to living without them: Your smile may not look the way you want it to; eating, speaking and intimacy may be more difficult; and your self-confidence may fade. Though serious, these are not the only impacts. There are hidden consequences of losing teeth that affect not only your appearance but also your health.

Importantly, a loss of jawbone inevitably follows tooth loss. Bone needs stimulation to maintain its form and density. In the case of the jawbone, that stimulation comes from the teeth, which make hundreds of fleeting contacts with each other throughout the day. The small stresses produced by these contacts are transmitted to the bone, prompting it to regenerate constantly. When a tooth is lost, the stimulation it provided disappears. In just the first year of tooth loss, there is a 25% decrease in bone width. This is followed over the next few years by an overall 4 millimeters decrease in height. If enough teeth are lost, and as bone loss continues, the distance from nose to chin can decrease and the lower third of the face partially collapses. With a lack of structural support, the lips sag; that's why toothless people often appear unhappy. Also, extreme loss of bone can make an individual more prone to jaw fractures.

You may also find that some of your remaining teeth actually shift into the spaces left open by your missing teeth. This in turn can cause additional bite problems and even jaw joint (TMJ) pain. Finally, compromised nutrition and poor general health can result if eating healthy foods like raw fruits and vegetables becomes too difficult without teeth.

Now here's the good news: Dental implants — the state-of-the-art tooth-replacement method preferred by dentists — can prevent all this.

How Dental Implants Prevent Bone Loss

Dental Implants 101.Besides helping a person without teeth look and feel great again, dental implants actually prevent bone loss. That's because they are made of titanium, which has a unique ability to fuse to living bone. By actually becoming a permanent part of the jawbone, dental implants stabilize and stimulate the bone to maintain its volume and density.

Dental implants are placed during a minor surgical procedure using local anesthetic and then, after a healing period, topped with a lifelike dental crown. Together, these precision components look, feel and function exactly like your natural teeth. Dental implant success rates exceed 95% — the highest of any tooth-replacement option.

Other Options for Tooth Replacement

Other than dental implants, your tooth-replacement options include fixed bridgework that incorporates or uses the adjacent teeth, and removable dentures. You should be aware, however, that the disadvantage of both of these options is that they may damage the anatomical structures on which they rest. For example, fixed bridges rely on support from two adjacent, possibly healthy teeth, which must be filed down and capped; this can make them susceptible to decay and root canal problems. Removable partial dentures hook onto existing teeth, which may become loose over time. And full dentures press on the bony ridges that used to support the teeth, accelerating the bone loss that began when the teeth were lost in the first place.

The above tooth-replacement options are all less expensive than dental implants, but only when viewed in the short term. Since bridgework and dentures may cause new problems and will likely need replacement themselves, they don't offer the same long-term value. When viewed as an enduring investment in your comfort, health and well-being, implants offer the best return by far.

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