Whether you have kids or not, everyone goes from having baby teeth (or primary teeth) to getting adult ones. It can be easy to think that baby chompers are just smaller, temporary versions of permanent teeth. While both tooth kinds are made of the same material and are structured in a similar way, there are noticeable (an unnoticeable, but equally significant) differences. Ultimately, because of these differences, baby and permanent teeth should be cared for in certain ways.
Baby Teeth: More Than Small Teeth
Young children will have up to 20 baby teeth instead of the 32 adults have. Adults have an additional four third molars (wisdom teeth), four first bicuspids and four second bicuspids. Baby chompers, like the rest of the baby’s or young child’s body is delicate and fragile. Contrary to the belief that the enamel (or outer layer) of the tooth is the toughest material of the body, the enamel of a baby’s tooth is not as tough because it is still developing. As primary teeth eventually fall out to make room for the permanent ones, the enamel can’t develop as fully as that found on permanent ones.
Because baby chompers aren’t as strong, they are more prone to breaks, chipping and discoloration from acids found in tooth staining foods and drinks. This makes the them more susceptible to cavities. With the enamel being so thin in places, it is more difficult for fillings and bonding to be applied should a tooth chip or fracture. Children who clench or grind their teeth will have more noticeable wear and tear due to the extra softness of their teeth.
Both baby and permanent teeth have a pulp located in their center. This where the blood vessels and nerves of the tooth are located. The ligaments that help hold the tooth in place can also be found around the pulp. While the pulp in adult, permanent teeth are small compared to the rest of the tooth, the pulp found in baby teeth are much larger. This mean that it doesn’t take as much for the nerves of a tooth to become inflamed and infected. The risk of nerve death is also higher in primary teeth than in permanent one.
The appearance of primary teeth are also different than that of permanent ones. Besides being smaller, they also have a different color and shape. Baby teeth are much whiter than adult teeth, even permanent teeth that have been whitened. Adult teeth naturally have a more yellow hue to them. The color differentiation can be seen when children lose their baby teeth and their permanent teeth begin coming in. Primary teeth have flat, smoother edges due to their recent eruption from below the gumline. Adult teeth have jagged edges that are also rounded. Baby teeth more often have a square look, looking like boxes. The larger, flatter surfaces of baby teeth mean there is more surface of contact between surrounding teeth.
Finally, the most obvious and well-known difference between adult and baby teeth is that permanent teeth can’t be replaced with another natural tooth like a baby tooth can. While baby teeth fall out on their own and are replaced by permanent teeth growing up underneath them, there is no such replenishing of lost or decayed teeth.
It is important to care for both baby and permanent teeth even though the former are temporary. Regular check-ups for both adults and children are necessary for great oral health.
If you haven’t already done so, schedule an appointment for your child (and yourself) with your pediatric dentist.