"They're just baby teeth. They're going to fall out anyway, so they don't matter". It saddens me that this needs to be put in quotation marks, because it's a phrase that I've heard spoken a number of times. Baby teeth, also known as milk teeth or deciduous teeth, are more important than most people think.
Not just for babies
The first baby teeth usually appear at only 6-12 months of age, but the last baby teeth to leave the mouth hang around for a long while. It's not until around 12 years old that the last baby tooth is lost, and is replaced by its adult successor. If baby teeth have to be extracted early because of problems, it could mean many years of having a gap and not being able to chew properly.
Little teeth have feelings too
Just like adult teeth, baby teeth can feel hot, cold, and pain. A child with neglected teeth that are full of holes will be in pain at some point. Decay tends to progress rapidly in baby teeth, so it may not take long for a small amount of decay to turn into a toothache. Remember that the baby teeth stay in the mouth for between 5 and 10 years. That's an awfully long time to have a sore tooth.
Damage to the permanent teeth
A toothache that progresses into an abscess, (infection), is serious business. Not only can it be extremely painful and require emergency treatment, but the developing adult tooth underneath can be damaged by the infection brewing right above it. The damage usually takes the form of discoloured enamel that may also have pits, ridges and defects in it. It can be severe enough that the adult tooth looks misshapen.
Count out loud from 60 to 70. How many times did your tongue touch your teeth to make the correct sound? For a child that is learning to speak, having missing teeth can make things difficult and delay their speech development.
Hold that space
When a baby tooth needs to be extracted ahead of its natural "get wobbly and fall out" schedule, a gap is left behind. As the child grows, the teeth remaining either side of the gap have a tendency to slowly drift into the space. Then, when the time comes for the adult tooth to erupt, there is less space for it to come through. If the drifting is severe, the adult tooth will have nowhere to go and won't be able to erupt at all. More commonly, the adult teeth will come through crowded, giving a crooked appearance that often needs to be fixed with orthodontics.
So, even though baby teeth don't last a lifetime, they do stick around for a long time to serve some very important purposes. Looking after your child's teeth will help to avoid dental pain, and set your child up to have a great set of adult teeth for the rest of their life.