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Caring for your child is an incredible responsibility, and their teeth are no exception. From the tough nights of teething to the joy of tooth fairy traditions, baby teeth are important in early childhood.
Here, we’ll discuss early dental health: what proper care looks like as your child’s primary teeth erupt and fall out.
Baby Teeth: Purpose and Function
Just because your child’s baby teeth aren’t permanent doesn’t mean they’re not crucial to development. They enable your little one to speak, chew, and smile.
Baby teeth also play the role of placeholder for permanent teeth. If that weren’t enough, they help your mouth and jaw muscles to develop properly.
Taking care of these is an important part of early oral health.
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When do baby teeth come in?
Though all you may see is gums, your baby’s mouth already has a full set of teeth waiting to erupt.
Do babies all cut their first teeth at the same time? Certainly not—a large range of factors, including birth size and genetics, determines the age of eruption.
The symptoms of teething are easy to identify:
- Increased drooling
- Lower sleep quality
- Refusing food
- General fussiness
- Hands in the mouth
This is your child dealing with the discomfort of teeth pushing through their gum line.
Teeth on the lower jaw usually come in first, with your baby’s first tooth typically being lower central incisors, or bottom front teeth, at four to seven months of age. These are usually followed by the upper central incisors and then lateral incisors, the teeth next to the central incisors.
If your child’s teeth don’t erupt in this order, don’t be alarmed; it’s not uncommon to see upper teeth first.
Next, you will see first molars appear, growing in between your child’s first birthday and 19 months. This can be more painful than other eruptions, which can explain increased crying and restlessness.
At 17-23 months, canines emerge, followed by second molars at 25-33 months. Congratulations! These are your final teething pains, as second molars are the last in the teething process.
Permanent & Baby Teeth Eruption Charts
The American Dental Association has shared guidelines on average times of both baby and permanent teeth eruption.
Teething Remedies (Including What to Avoid)
So, what does oral health look like when your baby’s gums are hurting?
Teething remedies have existed for centuries, and even Hippocrates wrote about the problem in the fourth century B.C. However, not all teething remedies are created equal.
Here’s what works best for teething relief:
- Massage: massaging your baby’s gums with clean hands can bring immediate relief. Be sure to clean your hands first!
- Chamomile: this plant extract can soothe teething pains naturally. Freeze some chamomile tea into a popsicle, or try a clean washcloth soaked in the tea.
- My popsicle recipe: this combines turmeric, an anti-inflammatory and oral health superstar, with other anti-inflammatory ingredients like ginger and cinnamon.
- Teething gloves: models like the Munch Mitt or the Nuby Teething Mitten keep hands out of mouths and aid in teething. It’s a win-win for parents.
Check out my comprehensive list of all-natural teething remedies for more ideas. These are the safest, best options for your baby.
Unfortunately, some popular teething soothing techniques are dangerous for baby’s health over time.
Teething gels carry serious risks like allergic reactions, seizures, and blood disorders. Numbing creams are also poor choices, as the FDA warns they can decrease blood oxygen levels in babies.
Many homeopathic teething tablets also use belladonna, which has been recalled as well. Finally, skip the liquid-filled teething ring due to the risk of bacterial contamination.
Caring for Baby Teeth: At Home
You don’t need to be intimidated by the world of dental care for children. In fact, you get to be your child’s first introduction and example in caring for their mouth! Good oral hygiene for kids is easy with our list of tips and things to avoid.
What To Do:
- Skip the traditional toothpaste. I still advise using your toothbrush and floss, but without the potentially toxic ingredients, like those found in fluoride toothpaste.
- Try an alternative. Here’s my recipe for kid-friendly toothpaste, and here is my list of the best non-toxic toothpastes for kids. I recommend a dab of toothpaste roughly the size of a grain of rice.
- Brush any erupted teeth after every meal. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests once a day, but I recommend after each meal to guard against plaque.
- Brush gently and target the gums. It’ll be easier on the teeth and the child to use gentle brushing motions at a 45 degree angle to the gums.
- Breastfeed if possible. While there’s no shame if this isn’t an option for you, breastfeeding can have tremendous positive effects on oral development and Vitamin K2 levels.
What Not To Do:
- Do it all for them. Teach your child how to brush properly as soon as they’re able. You’re helping them to form lifelong habits.
- Force a toothbrush in your child’s mouth. I wouldn’t like anything forced into my mouth, and your baby likely feels the same. Make toothbrushing fun and interactive.
- Refer to the dentist as a threat. If you treat children to dread the dentist or oral hygiene, they’ll avoid brushing, flossing, and checkups.
- Allow baby bottle tooth decay. The ADA suggests that you don’t allow your child to go to sleep with a bottle or pacifier. This can lead to a buildup of plaque.
Caring for Baby Teeth: At the Dentist
What can you expect at your child’s first dental visit for their baby teeth—or as your dentist may call them, primary teeth? Well, firstly, your child should begin seeing a dentist sooner than you may think.
Pediatric dentistry should start around six months, or whenever the first tooth erupts. No matter what, your child should visit the dentist by their first birthday.
By following the one year rule, you’re teaching them early that dental checkups matter, and that there’s nothing scary about us loveable dentists!
Beyond that, dentists can get an idea of how your child’s mouth is developing correctly and guide early development of the lower and upper jaw, as well as the bite. This is a field called orthotropics, and can save you time and money in orthodontics later.
At your first dental visit for baby, you can expect an examination to be sure the mouth tissue, bite, and eruptions are forming properly. Your dentist may also take an x-ray if there is any visible tooth decay. Finally, they’ll polish your baby’s teeth to remove plaque, and give you advice for caring for your children’s teeth at home.
When should baby teeth fall out?
Baby teeth fall out as the root melts away into the mouth and the tooth hollows, leaving behind small red spots of tissue. It’s also not uncommon for one of your child’s adult teeth to develop behind a baby tooth.
Having two rows of teeth is rarely problematic, but when they’re both the same height, you should see a dentist to be safe. Rarely, extractions may be needed if the baby teeth don’t fall out on their own.
Interestingly, baby teeth generally fall out in the order they erupt:
- Incisors go first, which usually are all shed between six to eight years of age
- The canines will fall out between ages 9 and 12
- The first and then second molars will go (this will happen for the first molars between 9 and 11 and the cuspids (second molars) between 10-12)
Dental Hygiene After Losing Teeth
So, we learned earlier how to brush new teeth as they come in, but what’s the proper way to care for your child’s mouth as they lose baby teeth?
- You can rinse with warm salt water, especially if there is blood.
- Next, continue normal dental hygiene, but be sure your child isn’t brushing too hard near the empty space. Brushing too hard will irritate the tissue and make new tooth growth more painful.
- Be sure your child is brushing their teeth and flossing as normal, even during tooth loss.
Now that permanent teeth are growing in, their oral health is even more important! If a baby tooth falls out earlier than projected, contact your dentist.
Tooth Fairy Traditions to Try
Most of us have heard of the tooth fairy leaving money under a pillow, but there are more ways to keep this old tradition feeling fresh. Try writing a receipt for the tooth (here are some free printable ones).
Perhaps you’d like to try tossing the tooth on the roof—a common tradition in Japan.
For light sleepers, institute a special tooth dish next to the bed instead of under the pillow. Another fun touch could be to leave some glitter on the windowsill as “evidence.”
Whatever you choose, I know you’ll make magical memories with those baby teeth.
Key Takeaways: Baby Teeth
While baby teeth may seem small and unimportant, caring for them properly can set children up for healthy future dental habits and mouths.
Since each baby’s teeth come in at a different time, eruption charts provide a good measuring stick.
Early dental intervention is key, and great oral hygiene begins in the home. As a parent, enjoy the traditions and teachable moments that come along with baby teeth.Learn More: The Best All-Natural Teething Remedies
- Journal of the American Dental Association. (2005). For the dental patient. Tooth eruption: The primary teeth. Journal of the American Dental Association (1939), 136(11), 1619. Abstract: https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(14)64257-4/abstract
- Ntani, G., Day, P. F., Baird, J., Godfrey, K. M., Robinson, S. M., Cooper, C., … & Southampton Women’s Survey Study Group. (2015). Maternal and early life factors of tooth emergence patterns and number of teeth at 1 and 2 years of age. Journal of developmental origins of health and disease, 6(4), 299-307. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4538790/
- Memarpour, M., Soltanimehr, E., & Eskandarian, T. (2015). Signs and symptoms associated with primary tooth eruption: a clinical trial of nonpharmacological remedies. BMC oral health, 15(1), 88. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26215351
- Pirali-Kheirabadi, K., & Razzaghi-Abyaneh, M. (2007). Biological activities of chamomile (Matricaria chamomile) flowers’ extract against the survival and egg laying of the cattle fever tick (Acari Ixodidae). Journal of Zhejiang University SCIENCE B, 8(9), 693-696. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1963437/
- Nagpal, M., & Sood, S. (2013). Role of curcumin in systemic and oral health: An overview. Journal of natural science, biology, and medicine, 4(1), 3. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3633300/
- AAP. (2010). A pediatric guide to children’s oral health flip chart. American Academy of Pediatrics. Full text: https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Oral-Health/Documents/OralHealthFCpagesF2_2_1.pdf
- US Food and Drug Administration. (2019). Risk of serious and potentially fatal blood disorder prompts FDA action on oral over-the-counter benzocaine products used for teething and mouth pain and prescription local anesthetics. Full text: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/risk-serious-and-potentially-fatal-blood-disorder-prompts-fda-action-oral-over-counter-benzocaine
- Bashash, M., Thomas, D., Hu, H., Angeles Martinez-Mier, E., Sanchez, B. N., Basu, N., … & Liu, Y. (2017). Prenatal fluoride exposure and cognitive outcomes in children at 4 and 6–12 years of age in Mexico. Environmental health perspectives, 125(9), 097017. Full text: https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp655
- Palmer, B. (1998). The influence of breastfeeding on the development of the oral cavity: a commentary. Journal of Human Lactation, 14(2), 93-98. Full text: http://www.brianpalmerdds.com/bfeed_oralcavity.htm