Dental Health Topics

Do Oral Health Problems Affect Kids the Same as Adults?

Kids are resilient, right? And if they have an issue with a baby tooth — then it really doesn’t matter since it will fall out anyway, right?

Well, there’s a lot to think about here. A cavity is a cavity no matter whose tooth it’s in, and the consequences of untreated tooth decay are always the same — further decay, pain, infection of the teeth and gums, and tooth loss. This goes for young and old teeth alike.

But there are ways that oral health problems affect children differently than adults.

For starters, your child’s dentist may make different recommendations based on age. Because children’s jaws are still developing, they may require temporary solutions to fill any important gaps in their mouth — to be replaced by a more permanent solution after they turn 18. An adult, of course, would receive a different treatment plan.

On the positive side, kids generally heal quicker than adults. Recovery from oral surgery, for instance, will generally be easier and faster for kids. Their bodies naturally work at a faster pace and are continuing to develop.

Another positive about being a kid is that (generally) oral health issues aren’t compounded by adult habits like tobacco or alcohol use.

But here’s where it may not be easier on kids:

Baby teeth have a thinner layer of enamel than adult teeth. This means that cavities can spread quicker in baby teeth. You have a shorter time window, then, to make things right before decay progresses.

Problems with baby teeth can cause problems for the adult teeth that will replace them. Here are just a few examples:

  • An injury to a child’s jaw can lead to permanent discoloration of an adult tooth
  • Decay in a baby tooth can spread to the adult teeth waiting to erupt
  • Missing baby teeth due to decay or injury can prevent adult teeth from erupting in the right space. This leads to crooked or misaligned teeth, which can increase the risk of cavities as an adult and even affect speech development.

Oral health issues can affect nutrition. The health of a child’s teeth is directly related to their ability to chew and swallow nutritious food. A child with a constant toothache or missing teeth will be less inclined and able to eat a variety of foods. This may affect a child’s physical or cognitive development as they grow.

A child’s confidence may suffer. In an age where perfectly straight white teeth is the beauty standard, a child may experience some emotional trauma due to tooth loss, decay, or discoloration due to injury. Children are still developing their sense of self, and so they may be more vulnerable than adults in this regard.

School Performance may be affected. Studies show students with dental issues are more likely to have problems at school, including missing more school days, not completing all assigned homework, and interacting less with their peers.

We can’t shield our children from everything, unfortunately! Sports, playtime, and just being a kid are good precursors to dental health issues. But the more you know ahead of time, the better prepared you’ll be to deal with problems as they arise. As always, the best thing you can do is to bring your family to routine dental visits and stay on top of dental hygiene at home.