“The shape and structure of your baby’s teeth will determine how comfortably she will eat, speak and, of course, smile,” explains Dr Andrew B Jordan, a member of the American Dental Association, the North Carolina Dental Society, the Academy of General Dentistry and Emergency Dentist USA. He explains that the first teeth, or baby teeth, grow in to be placeholders for the secondary or permanent teeth.
Cutting teeth can be painful for your baby and stressful for you, but it’s recommended you keep an eye out for any abnormalities. “Crooked baby teeth are common and not always a cause for concern – if a baby’s teeth grow in crooked, it doesn’t mean their adult teeth will grow in crooked,” explains Jordan.
Dr Steven Lin, a leading functional dentist and author of The Dental Diet, explains the functional role of the face and teeth are key to your child’s dental health and normal development. “To grow a straight adult dental arch, your child’s jaw and cranial bones must develop properly.” The American Academy of Orthodontics recommends children should see an orthodontist around the age of seven, but Dr Lin says the causes of crooked teeth begin long before that: “The causes of a crooked jaw and/or teeth can stem from developmental issues that begin at birth – or even before.” Dr Jordan adds that if your baby’s teeth start to grow in crooked, don’t panic. “
“A baby’s jaw changes dramatically in the early years of their life, and permanent teeth tend to grow in differently to the baby teeth,” says Jordan. ”Keep in mind that most baby teeth don’t grow perfectly straight. This is normal and, in more cases than not, the teeth straighten out on their own.” Jordan adds that if you do notice your baby’s teeth coming in crooked, consult your family dentist who can provide you with options and advice. The good news is, you can identify the behaviours that may result in crooked teeth, and prevent or limit the impact of these.
Behaviour: Loving that dummy
A dummy may be a source of comfort and soothing, but, according to the experts, if this behaviour continues for more than six hours daily, it can lead to teeth crowding and shifting. When sucked on for extended periods, the dummy can impact on the soft tissue of the mouth, creating a change in the conditions and forcing the teeth to shift and move in the mouth around the object. This is generally linked to six or more hours of dummy usage. In many cases, the effect is reversible once your baby has been weaned off their dummy.
The jury is out on which is better: a dummy or self-soothing by thumb-sucking. Each has its merits and downfalls. Much like a dummy, prolonged sucking of the thumb can lead to semi-permanent or permanent damage of the soft tissue in the mouth. Interestingly, the impact is not the same as sucking on a dummy, instead resulting in buck teeth and an overbite.
The need for your baby to suck her thumb generally stops between the ages of two or four, but can cause a misalignment of the front teeth if this self-soothing tool continues unabated.
Behaviour: Tongue thrusting forward
Dr Lin explains that in proper tongue poster, the tongue should rest up against the palate. “The tip and back of the tongue should be pressed upwards to the palate. This activates all the muscles that connect to the jaw, the base of the skull, the spine and throat.” A tongue thrust happens when the tongue pushes forward through the front teeth when talking, swallowing or when at rest. This is often linked to dummy or thumb-sucking as the tongue will adapt to the area previously held by the dummy or thumb.
Behaviour: Snoring or breathing through the mouth
Lin shares that, on average, you take 20 000 to 30 000 breaths. “If a child has a chronic blocked sinus or nasal obstruction, they may form a mouth-breathing habit. It only takes a slight obstruction to increase pressure in the nasal airway to cause a child to revert to open-mouth breathing.” Causes include (among others) sinus infections, swollen tonsils and adenoids, allergies, chronic upper airway infections, and the tongue falling into the airway during sleep and sleep apnoea, says Dr Lin. This can result in crooked teeth and overcrowding.
Behaviour: Bad eating and drinking habits
Baby teeth are placeholders for the big teeth, so you want them to be as healthy as possible. If your child loses a tooth earlier than they should, it could result in impacted teeth and may even impact the development of a healthy jaw. Sugary foods and drinks (particularly in bottles) can result in cavities. “Tooth enamel on baby teeth is much thinner than adult tooth enamel, which makes it easier and faster for plaque to build up,” says Dr Jordan. Make sure you brush your baby’s new teeth twice a day and minimize her sugar intake as this can lead to cavities.
Dr Jordan recommends that you look out for:
- Crowded teeth
- Crooked teeth
- Missing teeth
- Too many teeth
- Discoloured teeth