As a parent, we are often faced with questions pertaining to our children that we are unsure how to answer. One question that comes up is “Do I need to fix my child’s tooth since it is going to fall out anyways?”

This is a question that we get asked frequently in dentistry, especially when those teeth become broken or decayed. Tooth decay, also known as dental caries or a “cavity” is a breakdown of teeth due to the activity of bacteria. A cavity may be a number of different colors, from yellow to black.

It is not uncommon for a child to develop cavities in multiple sites in their mouth, especially if they tend to eat sticky foods, or regularly drink pop, sports drinks, or juices. This often comes as a surprise to the parents, as the child may not have mentioned any pain or sensitivity.

When these cavities are identified early on, they can often be remineralized with fluoride rinses or restored with a simple filling. When they get larger, they can invade the nerve and cause pain or infection for the child, resulting in more extensive treatment or even the loss of the tooth. In some cases, an untreated infection from a primary tooth can affect the permanent tooth that is developing underneath the gum.

So, Doc, why don’t we just yank it and wait for the big tooth to grow in?

Depending on the age of the child, that can sometimes be an option-with older children the permanent tooth may be ready to erupt into the mouth. However, if there is still some time before that permanent tooth is ready to join the party, removing the primary tooth can negatively affect speech and diet, and also cause issues with jaw growth and dental crowding. Also, having a tooth removed or having tooth pain can be a traumatic experience for a child-and can set them up for a lifetime of dental phobia.

An important part of getting your child to the dentist early, aside from allowing them to receive a proper oral evaluation and cleaning, is having them get familiar with the dental office and the team so if they need treatment in the future, they are comfortable and confident.

Hopefully, this answers a common question for some parents out there. Yes – those baby teeth matter!

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