milk teeth - the first pearly whites

The First Pearly Whites

As a paediatric and preventive dentist, I get to deal with wonderful children and their honest smiles have never failed to delight me. However, I also routinely come across parents who are of the view that milk teeth – the first pearly whites of their children, are temporary and do not warrant any treatment. Finance is a primary concern and statements like ‘why waste money’ are typical.

Getting into the details—most of us are crudely aware that human beings have two sets of teeth. The first, which come in a set of 20, are called milk teeth and are temporary or deciduous. The second set, comprised of 32, are referred to as permanent or adult teeth and persist throughout life—if cared for properly. Although milk teeth normally shed within 11-12 years of age, it is of utmost importance that they remain healthy until the permanent teeth erupt.

milk teeth - the first pearly whites

Milk teeth are important primarily because they assist in chewing, grinding digesting food—all of which children require of their teeth after a certain age. Kids who cannot chew food properly within their first year are likely to see their overall physical development hampered. Milk teeth are also important for the development of facial bones. The jawbone acquires its height with the appropriate positioning of teeth. In the absence of milk teeth, a five-year-old child will look like a 90-year-old without teeth. Teeth also support the surrounding musculature like lips and cheeks.

Milk teeth also serve as foundations to permanent teeth. Not only do they maintain the jaw height, but also provide space for permanent teeth to develop and guide them into position. Premature extraction may lead to loss of space for the permanent teeth to erupt, and consequently to crooked and crowded teeth. Pearly white teeth in the front region can add to a person’s beauty. A child who cannot smile confidently may even suffer from inferiority complex later on in life. Parents must make an effort to ensure their children can smile without hesitation if they want them to have a happy childhood.

As the development of speech occurs when milk teeth are present in the oral cavity, early loss (extraction) or fracture (teeth weakened due to caries breakdown) may lead to lisping, which can persist into adulthood. Without healthy and reasonably well-aligned teeth, children are likely to have difficulty even in forming words or pronouncing them clearly.

milk teeth - the first pearly whitesIf the treatment of teeth is not done during the initial stage of decay, it spreads and reaches the nerves and blood supply. This condition is extremely painful and if negligence persists here, the decay is likely to spread to the jawbone where the permanent teeth are developing. This not only damages the permanent teeth but can lead to infections to a degree where the child may need to be hospitalised. In extreme cases, children are even reported to die at a very young age solely due to dental negligence. No matter how good a school you choose for your children, they cannot perform well if they are in pain. Dental abscess and pain are known to be the most common cause for school absence and lack of sleep in children even in the US.

To take proper care of oral health, it is necessary to first know that children’s teeth start forming when they are still in their mother’s womb. Therefore, expecting parents should visit paediatric dentists to know about the dental development of their child.

For children, the first visit to the paediatric dentist should be made as soon as the first tooth erupts or no later than the child’s first birthday, whichever is earlier. Proper professional counselling, if taken for diet and oral hygiene maintenance, can help a child to easily pass through the milk teeth stage and reach permanent dentition without decay. It’s not children’s fault that they consume chocolate, it’s the parents’ responsibility to provide guidance on what to consume to maintain dental hygiene. Every child has the right to live their childhood. It’s the parents who should formulate ways by which their children can enjoy the things they like and yet remain healthy.


Dr. Sneedha

Dr. Sneedha Mainali, Dental Surgeon
(Pediatric and Preventive Dentistry)

Managing Director
Shine Dental Clinic