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The first set of teeth in the mouth serve a number of very important functions. The health and well-being of these primary teeth also affects the development of the permanent teeth. Read on to find out how.

The primary teeth, also known as deciduous teeth or baby teeth, are the first teeth to erupt in the mouth. They start erupting around the age of six months, begin to fall out around the age of six or seven, and the last deciduous tooth usually makes its exit between the ages of 11 and 13. 

One common misconception is that the primary teeth only last for about the first six years of age, and therefore don't matter much. This is why it is important to understand just why the primary teeth are so important and how they impact the development of the permanent teeth.

The importance of primary teeth: Why milk teeth matter

The primary teeth are often looked at as "disposable" because they are going to fall out early on in life. Parents and caregivers can be under the impression that, since milk teeth are not permanent, they are not important. That cannot be further from the truth. There are some very important roles that primary teeth play in the mouth. Let's have a look at some of them in detail.

Primary teeth help the child chew

The eating habits that a child develops dictate a lot of how the child's overall growth and development will take place. A child who has decayed, painful, or missing primary teeth is going to be unable to chew food properly. In fact, a really young child may also not be able to verbalize the fact that there is something wrong with the teeth.

Primary teeth participate in speech development

The presence of a complete set of healthy teeth in the child’s mouth is very helpful for normal speech development. There are several studies which have shown that the absence of primary teeth can increase the chances of developing a speech disorder. This is just one more reason to take caring for primary teeth seriously. 

Primary teeth are guides for the permanent teeth

One of the most important functions of the primary teeth in the mouth is to help guide the permanent teeth into their right place. The permanent teeth start to develop near the roots of the primary teeth. As the age of the child progresses, these permanent teeth start to follow the roots of the primary teeth and then erupt in the right place.

If the primary teeth have to be extracted because of any reason then the risk of the permanent teeth erupting out of their ideal position increases dramatically.

It is important to remember here that there are instances of children missing multiple teeth but having their permanent teeth erupt perfectly. Similarly, there are children whose primary teeth were all in place but the permanent teeth erupt out of position. There are no guarantees, but the chances of the permanent teeth erupting in the right position are maximized when the primary teeth are healthy and in the right place.

Primary teeth maintain space in the jaw for the permanent teeth

The primary teeth are much smaller than the permanent teeth. However, the design of their roots is flared and so they can help the larger permanent tooth come into the right place. One more essential functions of the primary teeth is to keep adequate space for the erupting permanent teeth.

If one or more primary teeth have to be extracted, then the remaining teeth start to drift closer together. This loss of space results in crowding and serious problems with the permanent dentition, the treatment of which can take several years of orthodontic intervention.

There are a few other ways in which the permanent teeth can be affected by the primary teeth.

Infection of the roots caused by tooth decay can cause a discoloration of the permanent tooth. This condition is known as "Turner’s syndrome". Also, since the ages of six to 12 are of mixed dentition where both primary and permanent teeth are present in the jaw, infected primary teeth can directly affect the permanent teeth as well.    

Food lodgment due to destroyed teeth, crowding of the permanent teeth, or growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth can be a source of both local and systemic infection. Tooth infection in the primary teeth has been linked to the development of tonsillitis, sore throat, and even ear infections.


Primary teeth are more important than a lot of people realize. This is why it is essential that they receive excellent care from the time they erupt. In fact, the small size of the primary teeth means that decay destroys the protective layers of the teeth faster than in the case of permanent teeth.

Inculcating good oral hygiene habits, using fluoridated toothpastes, and regular dental visits are a must to make sure that the child does not have to face pain, discomfort, difficulty in eating, and possible speech complications during the formative years of life.

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