The Problems Facing Primary Teeth 

At the end of a long day, when faced with the choice between battling your toddler over brushing their teeth yet again or just putting them to bed, you may be tempted to forgo the fight. After all, you think, aren’t they just baby teeth? 

It’s true: your child’s baby teeth are only temporary. Eventually, they will loosen and fall out, replaced by a more mature set. But thinking that this means primary teeth aren’t important would be a grave mistake. Damaged or decayed primary teeth can have serious consequences both now and in the child’s future. Here, we will explore some common dental problems in young children so that you can be better equipped to care for those tiny pearly whites.   

The Consequences of Unhealthy Primary Teeth 

Before we can understand why we should fight the battle over teeth-brushing with our toddlers, we have to better understand why damaged or decayed primary teeth are such a problem. The most obvious reason is, of course, the immediate implications: your child will be in pain or discomfort. Cavities, gum disease, abscesses, dental injuries—if these afflict your child’s baby teeth, it will be painful for your little one. The first and most straightforward reason to care for their baby teeth well is to spare them this discomfort.  

You might not know, however, that unhealthy baby teeth can also affect a child’s learning and development. Untreated cavities may cause problems eating, speaking, and focusing in class. The CDC has found that, “Children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t.” Another reason to protect even those temporary teeth is to facilitate your child’s development and education as best as possible.  

Finally, as at any stage of life, oral health affects overall health. This is a fact easily forgotten, but nonetheless true. The mouth is the holding place for a massive amount of the bacteria in the body. If a child’s teeth are not well-cleaned, bacteria can build up and escape to the rest of the body, causing illness and infection.  

Because of the health consequences both now and later, and because habits now shape their habits later, it’s crucial that parents don’t take a careless approach to their children’s baby teeth. Even little teeth can have big consequences. With that understood, we can examine a few of the main problems that you’ll want to be on the lookout for and prevent when it comes to your little one’s teeth.  


If your child has a cavity, don’t berate yourself or them—more than half of kids ages 6-8 will. The CDC reports that in the United States, cavities are the single most common chronic childhood illness. In fact, they call cavities one of the greatest unmet health concerns. While cavities are not an emergency, they do require the attention of a dentist. It’s important to know just how susceptible children are to cavities, and to teach them to maintain proper oral hygiene to prevent their onset.  


Bruxism is just the official term for teeth-clenching or grinding, another highly common condition among children. There are two kinds of bruxism: sleeping and waking. Children may develop bruxism as a response to stress or fear, or due to a more complex combination of environmental factors. Some estimates project that nearly half of children grind or clench their teeth during the night. The trouble with bruxism is that children can damage their teeth through grinding, in addition to increasing their risk for TMJ and eating disorders, reducing their quality of sleep, and raising their likelihood of developing mental health disorders such as anxiety.  

If your child has waking bruxism, you will likely notice it. Night bruxism may be harder to detect unless they share a room with a sibling or caregiver who notices the noise. If your child is clenching or grinding their teeth, it’s important to inform their dentist and to work with them to try and identify what is causing them to engage in bruxism so it can be stopped.  


For infants and small children, thumb-sucking is a natural way of soothing themselves and providing their own entertainment. Most experts agree the habit should not be stifled while the child is very young. In most cases, as a child enters kindergarten, the habit begins to fizzle out anyway. The child is growing up and has other ways to cope and other methods of entertainment. But for other kids, the thumb-sucking habit sticks around. The issue with this is that if a child is still sucking their thumb or fingers around age 5 as their permanent teeth start to show up, it could start to affect their bite. An abnormal bite is known as a malocclusion. Thumb-sucking that doesn’t fade out with time is something parents will need to either address or else face the risk of malocclusions and speech complications.

Dental Injuries 

Maybe you have an elementary-school-aged kid who thinks tackle football is all about doing the most tackling possible. Maybe you just have a busy toddler who thinks she can walk but is not quite stable on her feet yet. Whatever your situation, you probably have your hands full! Kids are certainly more prone to dental injuries than adults. As you take care of your child and their baby teeth, make sure you have child-proofed your house for any hazards that could potentially cause a knocked-out tooth. Similarly, if your child is old enough to play sports, and there is contact involved, consider getting them a mouthguard to protect their teeth from any potential impact.  

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay 

Baby bottle tooth decay is exactly what it sounds like—cavities developed in babies and small children as a result of constantly being given juice, milk, or other sugary drinks in their bottles. Often, parents will let their baby go down for a nap or go to sleep with the bottle in the crib. This allows the sugary liquid to saturate the child’s teeth, worsening the situation. Similar problems come from giving your little one a pacifier dipped in honey or syrup or letting them drink things other than water and formula too early. Though sweet things may pacify your child in the moment, it comes at the expense of their dental health, and that’s not a price that should be paid. Experts recommend that if you have to give your child a bottle in the crib, only fill it with water. Avoid giving babies and young children juice as much as possible.


These common dental problems can be avoided through intentional choices to prioritize their dental health, even though, yes, they’re only baby teeth. As we’ve learned, little teeth can have a big impact. If you have questions on how to care for your children’s teeth, contact our office today, and we can schedule your next appointment.  

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