Baby teeth fall out, but pediatric dental care is still critical

Contact Steven Lee, 210-450-3823,

Content contributed by Christine Zapata

San Antonio, February 22, 2024– Good dental hygiene starts early in life, and its benefits extend beyond cleaning teeth and freshening breath. In fact, consistent daily brushing, flossing, and twice-yearly dental visits can lead to better overall physical and cognitive health and higher self-esteem.

“Some people believe that baby teeth are going to fall out anyway, so why treat them?” Pediatric Dentist Says Claudia I. Contreras, DDSwho is also an assistant professor University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio School of Dentistry. “This idea is harmful because hygiene habits begin in childhood. Learning proper etiquette, hand washing, bathing and brushing teeth all begin in childhood – washing your toes is the same as flossing your teeth.

Claudia I. Contreras, DDS

February is Children's Dental Health Month, which recognizes the importance of children's oral care and its impact on a child's overall health and development. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg recently presented the UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry with the San Antonio Children's Dental Health Month Proclamation and recognized the school's contributions to the community, especially children's oral health.

in its final Texas Oral Health Basic Screening SurveyThe Texas Department of State Health Services reports that nearly 53% of kindergarten students and 67% of third graders in Texas have experienced tooth decay. These statistics inspire Contreras to dispel misconceptions about pediatric dentistry and increase access to treatment. Children with untreated teeth often suffer painful and life-long consequences, she said.

Oral health and physical development

Maintaining good oral health is vital to your child's health physical and social development. It directly affects correct speech, eating, and smiling, all of which contribute to social acceptance.

Teeth play a vital role in allowing children to effectively produce sounds when speaking. Certain sounds, such as “F” and “S,” are particularly affected by the presence or absence of teeth, often posing challenges for some children. Many children start combining words around their first birthday, which is when most dentists recommend their first dental visit.

The tongue and back molars are important tools for eating and nutrition. When cooperating well, the child can push food to the mouth and break it down for easier swallowing. If dental discomfort disrupts this process, children may have difficulty chewing properly or limit the types of food they eat, which may lead to nutritional deficiencies over time.

The ability to speak clearly and eat correctly is linked to a child's ability to interact socially and is the foundation for effective communication and positive relationships. A healthy smile also boosts confidence and contributes to your child's overall health. It promotes a positive self-image and social acceptance.

Oral Health and Cognitive Health

The pain, discomfort and embarrassment that often accompany dental disease, including cavities, can have negative physical consequences Affects cognitive development and self-esteemaffecting daily life.

If a toothache or infection results in missed school days, cognitive development (the process of learning and acquiring knowledge) may be disrupted.Research shows that children are three times more likely to miss school and four times Dental-related pain is more likely to result in a lower grade point average than other conditions.

Dental discomfort can hinder a child's ability to concentrate. Persistent or worsening toothache can lead to missed school days, creating a cycle of missed educational opportunities that can negatively impact academic performance.

The consequences of poor school performance extend beyond academics and can lead to children feeling shameful or inadequate. It can also negatively impact social acceptance and lead to lower self-esteem.

“Cavities can turn into infections, infections can turn into abscesses, and abscesses can turn into more serious conditions like cellulitis,” Contreras said. “These are real consequences of untreated teeth. . It's difficult for parents to see their children suffer, so it's important to prevent it.

Compassion in the Dental Community

From left to right: Kevin Hakala, Ashling, her brother Tommi and mother Yun Shi.

Contreras practices what she teaches her students.

We are not here to punish or blame patients or parents of children with dental problems,” she said. “Dentists, especially pediatric dentists, should be looking for new ways to motivate patients to take better care of their oral health. I tell my students that our job is not to point fingers, but to give positive feedback and tell our patients what they are doing. Be nice and encourage them to do so.

Marble and Kevin Hakala experienced this firsthand when they entrusted Contreras to take care of their daughter Ashlyn's teeth after she injured her teeth when she was 2 years old. Five years later, a healthy, permanent tree grew in Ashlyn's place.

“We take Ashling to Dr. C for check-ups at least twice a year,” Shi said. “She had a lot of cavities when she was five years old and needed treatment, but Dr. C helped discover some changes in her teeth, and we all paid more attention at home. Dr. C answered all our questions. She also took every opportunity to talk to us Parents promote oral health.

Describing her daughter's comfort level at the dentist's office, Hakara said, “When Dr. C went to the dentist, Ashlyn would often bring her a painting or a color photo. They had a great relationship.

Ashlyn was quick to confirm this.

“She was so good to me,” she said. She makes me happy, she always keeps my teeth clean… She is the best dentist I have ever seen in the world.”

“Patients who haven’t seen each other in years or who are visiting for the first time can expect compassion and understanding from their dentists, rather than judgment,” Contreras said. “We are here to work with families and teach them habits to prevent future problem appear.”

Contreras stressed the importance of educating parents about the many affordable pediatric dental clinics in San Antonio and South Texas, including:

For assistance scheduling your child's next dental appointment, please call UT Dentistry 210-450-3500.

UT Health San Antonio is a major driver of San Antonio's $44.1 billion health care and biosciences sector and the largest academic research institution in South Texas, producing $413 million in annual research. UT Health San Antonio plans to drive significant economic impact through its six professional schools, a diverse workforce of more than 8,500 employees, an annual spending budget of $1.46 billion and clinical practices that provide 2.6 million patient visits annually, with plans to increase The jobs for more than 1,500 high-paying employees over the next five years will serve San Antonio, Bexar County and South Texas. To learn about the many ways we make life better®, visit

UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry offers 18 dental and oral hygiene degrees and programs, world-renowned teacher educators, a diverse student body, state-of-the-art clinical facilities and an outstanding research enterprise. Departments include general dentistry, developmental dentistry, endodontics, periodontics and oral and maxillofacial surgery. Scientists collaborate with clinicians and research teams around the world to find new treatments and advance knowledge in oral health, biomaterials, cancer, pain and more, across multiple medical and dental disciplines. To learn more, visit

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