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Module 1: Tooth Decay

1.5 Can Tooth Decay Lead to Other Problems?

Tooth decay can spread and be extremely painful. It may lead to

  • Destruction of teeth.
  • Difficulty chewing, which can result in undernutrition and, in turn, to impaired physical development.
  • Speech problems.
  • Inability to concentrate, difficulty with learning, absence from child development programs (such as Head Start) and school, difficulty completing schoolwork, and impaired performance in school.
  • Psychological problems such as low self-esteem and poor social interaction.
  • Severe infections that can even result in death on rare occasions.

The primary teeth are important to a child’s overall development. Permanent teeth will eventually replace them, but this does not make primary teeth less important. Tooth decay in primary teeth most often means that there will be tooth decay in permanent teeth.

Healthy primary teeth are important for

  • Proper chewing, which helps ensure proper nutrition
  • Proper speech development
  • Holding the space in the dental arch until the permanent teeth erupt
  • Development of the facial structure

Don’t assume that tooth decay will occur no matter what. Even if everyone in a family has tooth decay, this doesn’t mean that tooth decay cannot be prevented or reduced. Any effort to save teeth, including primary teeth, will help promote healthy development and reduce or eliminate the pain associated with tooth decay.

young girl reading a book


Children with severe tooth decay may weigh significantly less than children who do not have severe tooth decay. If children with tooth decay receive comprehensive oral health care, significant “catch-up” growth can occur.