As a child, did you ever wiggle a loose tooth, hoping it will fall out so you can await a visit from the tooth fairy? For most children, all primary teeth are gone by early adolescence and adult teeth have grown in their place. (The wisdom teeth erupt later, at around 17 to 21 years old.) Occasionally, one or more baby teeth never fall out. If the retained teeth don't cause any problems, adults with baby teeth probably don't have anything to worry about. In some cases, however, orthodontic treatment may be the best option to prevent serious issues.
What Causes Retained Primary Teeth?
When baby teeth are retained into adulthood, it could be because the adult teeth that should have replaced them are missing. According to the American Dental Association, in normal dentition, all 32 adult teeth have erupted by around the age of 21, replacing the first 20 primary or "baby" teeth. Usually, the adult teeth push on the roots of the baby teeth and force them out of the gum, but for adults with a rare condition called tooth agenesis, the adult teeth are completely or partially missing. This condition is present in around 6.8 percent of the population, according to a study in the Journal of Medicine and Life. In other cases of retained primary teeth, the baby tooth is fused to the jaw bone, or the teeth are crowded or misaligned. Traumatic injuries and infection can also prevent teeth from developing or erupting as they should.
Problems in Adults With Baby Teeth
Retained primary teeth can function just as effectively as adult teeth, but they can also result in dental problems. When the retained tooth isn't aligned well with the other teeth, it's difficult to clean and can develop cavities. If the crooked tooth is at the front of the mouth, it can look unsightly. What's more, a poorly aligned baby tooth affects the positioning of other teeth in the mouth, causing tipping and other misalignment problems. An article in the Journal of Oral Research and Review states that retained primary teeth can also cause serious infections and speech problems.
Treatment Options for Retained Baby Teeth
An orthodontist can advise on whether a retained baby tooth should be left alone or if it requires treatment. A well-aligned tooth maintains the bone and tissue structure in the mouth, so there are good reasons for not treating a tooth that isn't causing any problems. However, if a patient is suffering dental issues due to a retained tooth, an orthodontist can reshape the tooth or remove it and replace it with a prosthetic. Tooth implants are usually the best option for replacing an extracted tooth that may be small or misshapen. In some cases, where the teeth are crowded, the best treatment is to remove the tooth and close the gap.
A baby tooth that never fell out can sit happily in the mouth for decades, sometimes without the person even noticing. On the other hand, retained primary teeth sometimes cause serious dental issues. Speak to your dentist if you have a baby tooth where an adult tooth should be, and find out whether treatment is the right option for you.