Some parents still consider that the primary teeth are not important because they fall out and are replaced by permanent teeth. However, besides their obvious importance for eating, appearance and speech, healthy primary teeth are also essential for guiding permanent teeth, which develop underneath them, into their correct positions. The primary molars, usually the last of the primary teeth to fall out, are normally not replaced by their permanent successors until about age 12 years.
Early neglect of primary teeth can result in a number of problems. Tooth decay in a young child can quickly lead to pain and infection (abscess) and, because of their young age, dental treatment can be difficult and may have to be carried out under general anaesthetic - a procedure that is not without risk. If a young child's primary molar tooth has to be taken out (extracted) due to severe tooth decay, then the guide for the permanent successor is lost. The space available for the permanent tooth can be reduced, resulting in crowding or misalignment of the permanent tooth.
A number of longitudinal studies have also found that children who experienced tooth decay in their primary teeth had a greater risk of developing tooth decay in their permanent teeth than children who maintained healthy primary teeth.3-5 These findings underscore the importance for parents and carers to establish good oral habits (e.g., healthy eating, daily toothbrushing) for their children from an early age, starting when the first tooth appears. Dietary advice for parents/carers of young children is provided here and toothbrushing advice in available here. It is also important thatn children be brought for their first dental check-up before all the primary teeth have erupted, ideally before age 2 years.