If my child is going to lose his or her baby teeth, do cavities matter?

Your child's baby teeth are important. Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food, speak and have a good-looking smile. Baby teeth also keep a space in the jaw for the adult teeth. If a baby tooth is lost too early, the teeth beside it may drift into the empty space. When it's time for the adult teeth to come in, there may not be enough room. This can make the teeth crooked or crowded.

Starting infants off with good oral care can help protect their teeth for decades to come.
Mary J. Hayes, DDS
Pediatric Dentistry

The baby teeth are the pattern for the permanent teeth:

  1. Early loss of baby teeth can cause a shift in the way the permanent teeth erupt later. Baby molars don't normally come out till age 11-14: that's a long time they are there to aid in the child's natural growth and development. 
  2. Decayed baby teeth will set up the permanent teeth to also become decayed. The bacteria that cause decay start on one tooth and migrate to others. Between 6 and 14, a child has a mixed dentition: about half baby and permanent teeth. Both need to be cavity free to protect the child's smile, not to mention ability to eat without pain.

Even with baby teeth, cavities can cause problems. In the short term, cavities can cause your child pain and may develop into infections that can even be life-threatening. Long-term issues can also occur. Baby teeth allow room for the development of permanent (adult) teeth. Losing them early to decay can cause unwanted shifting of the teeth, and adult teeth may not erupt into their proper position. This can in turn cause problems with the bite and could cause problems with chewing or speaking properly.

Picture of brushing teeth

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.