Very often throughout the day, parents will ask “why do baby teeth need to be fixed if they are just going to fall out anyway?”. Great question, and one that a great many readers out there are nodding about, right now.

Primary teeth, baby teeth, milk teeth, practice teeth, however you name them, have many functions and are integral the the health of our children. The function of primary teeth are as follows: they allow children to chew and eat properly, hold space for permanent teeth to come into the arch in proper alignment, allow for proper development of speech, and provide that fabulous smile that makes us adore them.

Over and above all of these functions is the need to prevent or treat infection and preserve the function of the primary dentition.

When primary teeth become infected by the bacteria that cause dental decay, and if the decay is allowed to progress, a complicated process begins. Cavities begin as small areas of decay that progress through the hard outer enamel through to the softer inner layer of dentin, finally through to the nerve and blood supply, or “pulp” of the tooth. This process continues if not treated by either prevention or a restoration, or dental filling. As the cavity approaches the pulp, often there is pain, especially with eating or drinking. Once the cavity reaches the pulp, the infection can turn from a dental infection into a systemic, or body infection, which can lead to fever, swelling, and an overall feeling of being ill, often increasing in severity until treated.

Dental treatment involves addressing the cavity process at any of the various stages. Dental restorations, or fillings, do not have a profound effect on teeth or how they work. If, however, the cavity process is advanced at the time of treatment, one or several teeth will require removal.

Children will adapt to a loss of teeth in an amazing way that only kids can do. Even with several missing teeth they are able to eat the same (or very close) array of food they are used to eating. Occasionally, depending on several factors, the dentist may recommend a spacer be placed following an extraction of a molar, or back tooth. The spacer allows the space once occupied by the primary tooth to remain for the permanent tooth that will one day erupt into it’s place. Children may experience a change in speech, especially if the front teeth are removed. There are, however, no permanent changes to speech and speech development following the removal of primary front teeth.

A very common parental concern regarding the removal of primary front teeth is esthetics. Although esthetics are very important, the appearance of a smile with the front teeth affected so badly with decay that they require extraction is arguably less esthetic than a smile with the teeth not present. Although a difficult discussion to have, the decision to remove teeth is only made if the benefits of completing the treatment outweigh the risk of not completing the treatment.

The bottom line: Yes, the primary teeth do fall out in time, but, during the time they are present, they can have a profound effect on children’s day-to-day health, as well as their overall health. Your dental professional can help protect and maintain the baby teeth so that they do fall out, naturally