What You Need to Know about Tooth Development and Exchange of Baby Teeth to Adult Teeth

Young girl smiling and ponting her missing tooth

As pediatric dentists will tell you, it can be both an exciting and a terrifying experience to lose one’s teeth. When you’re a kid, it’s a delightful new experience that often ends with money slipped under your pillow while you sleep. But it’s also a piece of you that just fell out! No matter how many adults explain it as natural, as a normal part of growing up, and as a good thing, it’s a little hard to shake the fear that comes along with it.

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Still, the development of a child’s baby teeth into adult teeth includes a series of important milestones. There are many things to be considered regarding oral hygiene throughout the years-long process, and it all culminates in the development and practice of excellent ongoing oral care. Here’s what you need to know about tooth development and the exchange of baby teeth to adult teeth.

Teething & Eruption

The first stage of tooth development happens between infancy and toddlerhood: teething. It’s a dreaded word for any parent who’s gone through it with a child before. The process of having new teeth erupt in a baby’s mouth is uncomfortable for the child. Though there are a few tricks, like providing a chilled teething ring, that can help manage the pain, it’s going to be a difficult process for your kid—but one they will get through.

This is the stage when your child’s primary teeth (aka “baby teeth”) come in. A tooth that is coming in is referred to as “erupting.” Babies will erupt a total of twenty teeth—ten on top and ten below.

Though there’s no steadfast rule as to when your child’s teeth will come through, there are a few common signs you can watch for:

  • For every six months of life, approximately four teeth will erupt.
  • Lower teeth usually erupt before upper teeth.
  • By age three, all primary teeth should be in.

Caring for Primary Teeth

Primary teeth enable children to eat solid foods and learn to speak properly—not to mention, they reserve space for adult teeth that will come later.

“But they’re just going to fall out…” may be an argument made to avoid brushing their teeth; however, care of primary teeth is just as important as caring for adult teeth. Yes, these teeth will eventually fall out, but teaching a child to care for their teeth and be concerned about their oral hygiene early means the development of great habits that will carry forward in life.

Children are also very vulnerable to tooth decay as a result of eating candy or drinking from baby bottles. That makes it even more important to regularly clean your child’s teeth and take them to scheduled visits at the pediatric dentist’s office.

Losing Primary Teeth

Once your children get to age six (though this can be a year earlier or later), you’ll notice their primary teeth start to loosen. This means they’re preparing for the eruption of permanent teeth. As said, this can be a scary thing for some kids, and it may come with some discomfort.

The best thing you can do as a parent is reassure them this is a natural process. (And remind them of the Tooth Fairy!)

If your child is having extra difficulty, try making a game out of it. Draw a model of their mouth and start tracking which teeth are loose, when they fall out, and when the primary teeth start to show.

With a little normalization, losing teeth will become an exciting process.

Eruption of Permanent Teeth

Finally, once the primary teeth have made space for the permanent teeth, your child will start to develop their lifelong smile. The first teeth to come in are usual the molars, followed by central incisors, lateral incisors, and so on. This process can continue until they are twenty-one years old (with wisdom teeth being last).

Losing teeth can be scary for young kids, but with a little bit of knowledge and a whole lot of support, they’ll be excited for their journey into adulthood.