Your child won't keep his or her first teeth forever, but that doesn't mean those tiny pearly whites don't need conscientious care. Maintaining your child's dental health now will provide health benefits well into adulthood, as primary (baby) teeth serve some extremely important functions.
For one thing, primary teeth serve as guides for the eruption of permanent (adult) teeth, holding the space into which these new teeth will erupt.
The crowns (tops) of the permanent teeth actually push against the roots of the baby teeth, causing them to resorb, or melt away. In this way, the adult teeth can take their proper place.
What's more, your child's primary teeth will be there for most of childhood, helping your child to bite, chew and speak. For the first six or so years, he or she will be relying on primary teeth exclusively to perform these important functions. Until around age 12, your child will have a mix of primary and permanent teeth. You will want to make sure those teeth stay healthy and are lost naturally — when it's time.
Below we have outlined the different stages of tooth development.
Your Child's First Teeth
'Eruption' refers to the tooth breaking through the gum line. In babies, tooth eruption is also called teething. The timing of tooth eruption differs from child to child. For example, one child may cut their first tooth when only a few months old, while another may not start teething until they are 12 months old or more.
While the timing may vary, the order of tooth eruption is:
Generally, the average child has their full set of 20 primary teeth by the age of three years.
Baby Teeth Eruption Chart
Managing the Teething Process
When babies are about six months old, the level of antibodies passed on from their mother starts to fall, which changes their immune systems. Along with the tendency to put things in their mouths, this makes them more prone to illnesses.
Symptoms of common childhood illnesses such as changes in sleep and eating patterns, fussiness, rash, drooling, runny nose and diarrhoea are often mistakenly linked to teething. If your child has these symptoms, make sure that they are not suffering from other possible causes such as bacterial, viral or middle ear infections.
Teething takes about eight days, which includes four days before and three days after the tooth comes through the gum. (You may see a blue-grey bubble on the gum where the tooth is about to appear. This is called an eruption cyst and will usually go away without treatment.) During this time, it can be tough to keep children comfortable.
Some tips include:
Some treatments should be used with caution or not at all. These include:
Caring for Primary Teeth
Some parents may feel that caring for baby (primary) teeth isn't as crucial as caring for adult (permanent) teeth, simply because baby teeth are designed to fall out anyway. However, baby teeth are very important. They enable children to chew food and speak properly, and they reserve the spaces in gum tissue for future adult teeth.
Decay in teeth is preventable. Good oral hygiene habits and a healthy diet, established early, significantly decrease the risk of developing dental decay.
Tips for looking after baby teeth and developing good oral hygiene habits include:
Decayed baby teeth need professional dental treatment and, in some cases, specialist treatment in a hospital under a general anaesthetic. If neglected, decayed baby teeth can lead to mouth pain, dental abscess, and problems with the surrounding teeth. Severe decay in baby teeth can affect eating and sleep, which can slow growth.
If a baby molar is prematurely lost (due to severe decay), the baby teeth next to the missing tooth may drift into the gap and create spacing problems for the adult tooth when it comes through.
Loss of Primary Teeth
From the age of about six years, baby teeth start to become 'wobbly' and fall out to make way for adult teeth. It is perfectly normal for a child to lose their first tooth up to a year or two earlier or later than six years of age. Girls generally lose teeth earlier than boys. The first tooth to fall out is usually located in the front of the lower jaw.
Losing baby teeth can be unsettling and painful for young children. Suggestions for parents include:
Eruption of Permanent Teeth
Permanent teeth are also known as adult teeth or secondary teeth. The permanent teeth start to develop in the jaws at birth and continue after a child is born. By about 21 years, the average person has 32 permanent teeth, including 16 in the upper jaw and 16 in the lower jaw. (In some cases, the third molars – commonly called wisdom teeth – do not develop or do not erupt. Consequently, a set of 28 permanent teeth is considered normal too.)
At about the age of six years, the first permanent molar teeth erupt. These four molars (two in each jaw) emerge behind the child's existing primary teeth. Other permanent teeth, such as the incisors, canines, and premolars, erupt into the gaps in the gum left by shed primary teeth.
Like primary teeth, the timing for when the permanent teeth come through differs from one child to the next. Generally, the order of eruption and rough timeline for each type of permanent tooth is:
Permanent Teeth Eruption Chart