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Adults With Baby Teeth: Causes and Treatment

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As a child, did you ever wiggle a loose tooth, hoping it would fall out so you could receive a visit from the tooth fairy? Most children lose all their primary teeth by early adolescence, having replaced them with adult teeth. (Wisdom teeth erupt later, at around 17 to 21 years old.) Occasionally, one or more baby teeth may stay in place. 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 that the adult teeth meant to replace them are missing. According to the American Dental Association, all 32 adult teeth should 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 occurs 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. Moreover, if the crooked tooth is at the front of the mouth, it can look unsightly. A poorly aligned baby tooth also affects the positioning of other teeth in the mouth, causing tipping and other misalignment problems. In addition, an article in the Journal of Oral Research and Review states that retained primary teeth can 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 requires treatment. A well-aligned tooth maintains the bone and tissue structure in the mouth, so there are good reasons not to treat 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 to replace an extracted tooth that is 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 has never fallen 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.

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