Later Dental Issues in Premature Babies

Some children who are born prematurely may have dental issues later.

Why? Some common reasons include stress and illness that that can delay or alter the normal formation of teeth.

The baby’s teeth form enamel during the last half of pregnancy (they form from phosphorous and calcium). If the baby is born prematurely, she doesn’t receive enough of these minerals while in the womb and even delivering calcium and phosphorus to her after birth doesn’t provide her enough. This applies even if breast milk, nutritional fluids and formulas fortified with the two minerals are given to her.

Enamel is critical to helping protect teeth from developing cavities, so it’s wise to check out your once-premie child’s tooth enamel with a professional because your child may be more susceptible to cavities.

Whether premature or full-term, when your baby nears his or her first birthday, make that first dental appointment

The breathing tube often placed in premature babies’ mouths presses or rubs on the roof of the mouth and gums, which can create a high or arched palate. The tube’s pressure also can affect the development of a baby’s teeth under the gum.

Some of the most common dental problems for children who were born prematurely can include:

  • Slow to teethe, particularly for the first baby teeth. The child should catch up to a normal teething pattern as she grows older.
  • The child’s tooth enamel may form abnormally.
  • She may have an abnormal bite known as a cross-bite.
  • Her palate (the roof of her mouth) may have a high arch or groove.

You may not know if your former premie has problems with her enamel as most small abnormalities usually aren’t visible to a laymen’s eye. Your child’s dentist will need to examine the child.

But some abnormalities are more severe and evidence of them can include teeth that don’t appear as white as other children’s teeth, uneven surfaces or even abnormal shapes to the teeth.

If you child does have abnormal enamel formation, make sure you help her develop good oral health habits early – as soon as her baby teeth start to erupt through the gums. Her teeth definitely should be cleaned at least two times a day (in the morning and right before going to bed).

You also should not let her gain the habit of sleeping with a bottle (at night or during naps) because this can cause severe decay, so severe that it destroys her teeth. This even has a name: Nursing Bottle Tooth Decay.

While your child’s baby teeth are most susceptible to abnormalities, her permanent teeth also may be affected (yet often to a lesser extent).

As dire as the term “abnormality” sounds, many of these issues can be handled with good oral hygiene (the twice-daily toothbrushing habit mentioned above).

Your dentist will be able to fill your child’s cavities as for any child.

An arched palate can affect your child’s speech, however most children tend to adapt to this and compensate for it. Premature babies do have a higher than normal chance of needing braces when older.

The American Dental Association recommends that all children should visit a dentist for the first time around their first birthday. While it’s not necessary to bring your premature baby to the dentist earlier than this milestone, it’s ever more important that your child see the dentist by this time.

Whether your child was born prematurely or at full term, she’s nearing the first birthday, contact Plano dentist Dr. Darren Dickson for an appointment by phone or via our online contact form.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius/

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