Kids may not care about much more than what the tooth fairy will bring, but as a parent, you should inform yourself about your children’s baby teeth. Here’s everything you need to know about the purpose of baby teeth, when they should emerge and fall out, and why taking care of them is important.
What’s the Purpose of Baby Teeth?
Baby teeth allow infants and children to chew and develop their speech and typical oromuscular functions. Even more importantly, they conserve the space where adult teeth will eventually grow in.
We grow more than one set of teeth because when we’re young, our jaws are not big enough to hold adult teeth. (And if they were, women probably wouldn’t be able to give birth.) By saving the space for adult teeth, baby teeth make the final eruption process much easier and more organized. If they didn’t have the pathways that baby teeth provide, adult teeth could grow in the wrong directions and become crowded, requiring orthodontic work later on.
When Should Teeth Emerge and Fall Out?
The chart below shows the ages at which teeth erupt and fall out, beginning with the lower central incisors (front teeth) at around 6 months and then the upper central and lateral incisors (the four front teeth on the top) at 8 to 9 months. After these teeth, the rest gradually emerge in pairs (one on each side) in each jaw until all 20 are there, around 2 ½ to 3 years. From this time until children turn 6 or 7, children will have all of their primary teeth. The facial and jaw bones start growing around the age of 4, opening up spaces between the baby teeth for the adult teeth to fill. Adult teeth begin erupting at 6 or 7 years and finish at around 10 to 12 years, during which time children have a mix of both baby and adult teeth.
|Tooth||Emerging Age||Falling Out Age|
|Upper Teeth||Central incisor||8-12 months||6-7 years|
|Lateral incisor||9-13 months||7-8 years|
|Canine (cuspid)||16-22 months||10-12 years|
|First molar||13-19 months||9-11 years|
|Second molar||25-33 months||10-12 years|
|Lower Teeth||Central incisor||6-10 months||6-7 years|
|Lateral incisor||10-16 months||7-8 years|
|Canine (cuspid)||17-23 months||9-12 years|
|First molar||14-18 months||9-11 years|
|Second molar||23-31 months||10-12 years|
Additional helpful facts include the following:
- About four teeth will emerge every six months.
- Girls’ teeth generally emerge before boys’ teeth.
- Lower teeth generally emerge before upper teeth.
- Baby teeth are smaller and whiter than adult teeth.
Why Is Caring for Baby Teeth Important?
Some people assume that baby teeth are not important because they will eventually be replaced, but this is not true. Taking care of baby teeth is necessary so that they can fulfill their various purposes, such as helping with speech and oromuscular development and ensuring proper nutrition. Children who have decaying or missing teeth may have a hard time chewing, which could cause them to avoid certain foods and affect the quality of their diet.
When left unchecked, tooth decay can cause infection and pain. Treating these problems is often more difficult with children, and anesthesia may be necessary. If tooth decay is so severe that extraction is required, the adult tooth will be deprived of its guide and may not grow in straight. Since no baby tooth will be preserving its space, the permanent tooth may also be crowded or misaligned.
The health of baby teeth can also affect the health of the adult teeth growing beneath them. Studies have shown that children who have decaying baby teeth are more likely to experience decay in their adult teeth than children who had healthy baby teeth, meaning that maintaining good oral health is important from the very beginning. Be sure to teach your children healthy brushing and eating habits, and bring them in for their first dental visit before all of their baby teeth have emerged (before they turn 2 is ideal).