Anatomy of the Teeth and Mouth
Anatomy of a Tooth
There are five basic parts to a tooth: the crown, the enamel (which protects the tooth), the dentin (the largest part of the tooth), the pulp (the inside of the tooth), and the root. Protecting the enamel is the best defense against tooth decay, which is why brushing twice each day and flossing daily is so important for dental health. Proper development of dentin relies on good nutrition and dental care as well as adequate blood flow. Teeth receive blood flow through the pulp, which also houses the nerve. Finally, the root secures a tooth into the jaw and is situated below the gum-line.
Childhood Dental Development
Dental development actually begins before birth. Teeth begin to develop in the womb during the second month of pregnancy. Typically, around 4 to 6 months of age, a baby's first teeth will appear. The middle front teeth, called the central incisors, will appear first. Usually, the lower central incisors come in followed by the upper central incisors soon after. Gradually, the rest of the baby teeth will come in, from the side canines (cuspids) to the back molars. There are 20 primary teeth in total, and a child typically has all of these by around their third birthday. As a child grows, they will begin to lose their baby teeth and grow in the permanent set. Baby teeth are typically lost in the same order in which they grew, starting with the central incisors and ending with the back molars. While a child has 20 primary teeth, adults have a full set of 28-32 permanent teeth.
What Happens When a Cavity Forms?
Cavities, or holes in the teeth, form by the accumulation of acids created by sugar-loving bacteria. Without proper dental hygiene, these bacteria collect on teeth and generate acids which attack a tooth's enamel, and eventually work their way toward the pulp and root.
In some cases, the decay can make it all the way to a tooth's root. If the pulp or root becomes infected, a special procedure is required to clear the infection and treat the tooth. When a pediatric dentist refers to "pulp therapy" or a "root canal," they are describing clearing out an infection deep within a tooth and applying a filling to the empty spaces in the canals and replacing the pulp. Typically, a permanent replacement crown will be placed on top of the treated tooth once it has healed.
Understanding what makes up a tooth, how cavities form, and the development of teeth throughout different stages of childhood are important to ensure the best possible support for your child's oral health. Maintaining a healthy smile through diligent oral hygiene and by visiting a pediatric dentist every six months will help prevent and minimize dental decay for both primary and permanent teeth, leading to more comfort, less expense, and a stronger sense of self-confidence for a growing child.