Your baby will get their first tooth around 6 months of age, and by 3, they’ll usually have all 20 primary teeth, or baby teeth. But what if their baby teeth are coming in crooked? Does that mean their permanent teeth will be crooked too? Should you visit an orthodontist right away? Before you start imagining your toddler walking around in braces, read on to learn what our Brooklyn pediatric dentists have to say about crooked baby teeth.
What Causes Crooked Teeth?
- Genetics – Misaligned teeth and jaws are often the result of mismatched jaw growth, and jaw and facial growth are largely determined by genetics. Plus, since kids are getting traits from both parents, it’s not uncommon for them to inherit a small jaw from one parent and large teeth from the other, or vice versa.
- Oral Habits and Myofunctional Disorders – Oral habits like finger and thumb sucking and prolonged pacifier use put pressure on the upper front teeth and palate. This can cause protruding front teeth and/or a narrowing of the upper arch, which in turn is tied to a number of types of malocclusion (bad bite), such as a crossbite or open bite. Myofunctional (muscle function) disorders like tongue thrust and mouth breathing may also interfere with facial development and lead to crooked teeth or bite problems.
- Premature Loss of Baby Teeth – Losing a baby tooth too early can be a culprit behind crooked teeth. When a baby tooth is lost, whether from injury or decay, the teeth on either side of the gap have a tendency to shift into the space. This not only causes crooked baby teeth, but can also block the permanent tooth from coming in straight, or at all, leading to crooked or crowded permanent teeth too.
- Extra Teeth – Rarely, extra teeth are a cause of misalignment.
Does It Matter if My Child’s Baby Teeth are Growing in Crooked?
The good news is, no, it usually doesn’t matter if your child’s baby teeth are growing in a little crooked. And crooked baby teeth don’t automatically mean crooked permanent teeth. Your little one’s jaw and mouth will go through major changes between ages 3 and 6, which will alter the position of their primary teeth.
A space or gap between baby teeth can be a good thing since the permanent teeth are larger and will need more room to erupt. Even with crowded baby teeth, the crowding may go away as your child’s jaw grows.
What Should I Do if I’m Concerned About My Child’s Crooked Baby Teeth?
If your child’s baby teeth do come in crooked and you’re worried about it, bring it up with your pediatric dentist. At Bitesize Pediatric Dentistry, we generally take a watch-and-wait approach for very young children. When your child comes in for an exam every six months, we’ll assess their oral development and make sure their smile is on track.
If it does appear that your child’s permanent teeth will be crooked or they show signs of a problem with jaw growth, we can refer you to an orthodontist for an evaluation. Or, for cases of premature baby tooth loss or prolonged thumb sucking or pacifier use, we may recommend certain appliances to prevent orthodontic issues from occurring.
Can I Prevent My Baby’s Teeth From Coming in Crooked?
You can’t usually prevent your baby’s teeth from coming in crooked. However, there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood of crooked permanent teeth, or at least lessen the severity of the problem:
Get Kids to Stop Thumb Sucking or Using a Pacifier
While thumb sucking or using a pacifier might not make the baby teeth erupt crooked, it can shift them out of alignment once they’re in place. As we noted before, these oral habits can also result in crooked or protruding permanent teeth and bite problems like a crossbite or open bite.
Several studies, including one published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, determined that while more significant orthodontic issues occurred in kids who continued a sucking habit after age 4, the effects of pacifier use and thumb sucking on the teeth and jaw were seen as early as 24 months in some children.
For this reason, taking away the pacifier between ages 1 and 2 is ideal, as is gently starting to encourage your child to stop sucking their thumb at around age 2. While most kids stop sucking their thumbs on their own between 2 and 4, if your child is still sucking their thumb at age 4, then it’s time to make a more concerted effort.
If you’re not able to break the habit, talk with your Brooklyn pediatric dentist. In some instances, we might recommend a habit-breaking appliance. The device stops your child’s thumb from coming into contact with the palate and prevents suction, which takes away the enjoyment.
Seek Help for Myofunctional Habits
Mouth breathing and tongue thrust are two common myofunctional habits that can cause crooked teeth and problems with jaw growth. If your child engages in these habits, talk to your pediatrician or pediatric dentist. Sometimes, correcting mouth breathing can be as simple as controlling your child’s allergies. Other times, more extensive treatment might be necessary.
Tongue thrust, also called reverse swallowing, is when your child’s tongue protrudes between their front teeth when they swallow. The tongue is also usually in a forward position when at rest, which can lead to a number of issues with teeth and jaw alignment. Your dentist or pediatrician might recommend myofunctional therapy, which uses certain exercises to retrain your child’s swallowing pattern and tongue positioning. Depending on the situation, a habit-breaking appliance could be helpful too.
Take Care of the Baby Teeth to Prevent Tooth Loss
While we are able to stop the crowding that can happen with the early loss of baby teeth, which we’ll get to next, prevention is always better than treatment. The primary teeth save space for the permanent teeth to come in properly, so caring for them is the key to keeping them in place until it’s their time to fall out naturally.
Here are some tips for caring for baby teeth:
- Start brushing your baby’s teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a tiny smear of toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice) as soon as their first tooth erupts. Continue brushing twice a day and increase the toothpaste to a pea-sized amount from ages 3 to 6.
- Floss your little one’s teeth once daily when their teeth are touching or close together.
- Keep up with regular dental visits. During exams, we can spot problems early on and treat them before they become more serious. Cleanings help to remove hardened plaque (tartar) that can’t be eliminated with a regular toothbrush and floss, which keeps tooth decay and gum disease at bay.
- Give kids water to drink throughout the day. Never give them a bottle or sippy cup with milk or juice when they go to sleep as it can cause what’s known as baby bottle tooth decay.
- Make sure kids are eating a healthy, well-rounded diet. Have sugary and starchy foods and drinks in moderation because they promote tooth decay. When kids do have something sweet, give it to them as part of a larger meal.
- Limit snacking and sugary drinks. Frequent snacking and sipping brings out the cavity-causing acids.
- Encourage kids to wear a mouthguard when playing sports or doing any physical activity that could result in a blow to the face.
If a Baby Tooth Does Fall Out Early, Talk With the Dentist
Things happen and, in spite of your best efforts, your child could lose a baby tooth early. If so, schedule an appointment with your pediatric dentist as soon as possible. Depending on which tooth was lost and when it would have normally fallen out, we might be able to use a dental space maintainer to hold space for the permanent tooth to erupt.
Visit Your Pediatric Dentist Every Six Months
Cleanings and exams are important for preventing cavities and gum disease. But, they also give the dentist the opportunity to evaluate your child’s growth and development. By coming in every six months, we can keep tabs on crooked baby teeth and let you know if treatment is needed.
Schedule Your Child’s First Orthodontic Evaluation by Age 7
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends kids have their first orthodontist visit by age 7. At this point, your child will have a mix of permanent teeth and primary teeth and the orthodontist will be able to see how your child’s bite is shaping up. While most kids won’t need treatment this young, sometimes, if certain red flags are spotted, intervening early will create the best outcome.
With early intervention, the orthodontist uses appliances to guide jaw growth while your child is still developing. This can prevent the need for more extensive treatment, jaw surgery or extractions down the road.
Schedule a Visit with a Brooklyn Dentist for Kids Today!Whether you’re worried about your child’s baby teeth coming in crooked or not, routine dental care starting at age 1 will help your child achieve a healthy smile. Schedule a visit at Bitesize Pediatric Dentistry in DUMBO, Park Slope or Williamsburg, Brooklyn.