Two Sets of Teeth
Throughout life, you will have two sets of teeth: primary (baby) teeth and secondary (permanent) teeth. A child’s teeth start forming before birth/in utero. As early as 4 months old, the first primary teeth push through the gums—the lower central incisors are generally first, then the upper central incisors follow. The remainder of the 20 total primary teeth erupt by age 3, but the order varies.
Permanent teeth begin eruption around age 6, starting with the first molars and lower central incisors. This process continues until around age 21. Adults have 32 teeth including the third molars (wisdom teeth).
Normally the first tooth erupts between ages 6 to 12 months. Gums are sore, tender and sometimes irritable until the age of 3. Rubbing sore gums gently with a clean finger or a cold, wet cloth helps soothe the gums. Teething rings work well but look for BPA free products.
While your baby is teething, it is important to monitor the teeth for signs of baby bottle decay. Examine the teeth prior to twice daily brushings, especially on the inside or the tongue side. A bottle containing anything other than water and left in an infant’s mouth while sleeping will cause decay. During sleep, saliva flow decreases and sugar containing liquids pool around teeth for long time periods. When acids remain on tooth enamel for extended time periods they cause tooth decay. Infant formula or breast milk contain large amounts of sugars/acids that will cause decay if given the opportunity.
Baby (Primary) Teeth
The primary teeth play a crucial role in your child’s development. Good teeth allow a child to eat and maintain good nutrition. Healthy teeth also allow for clear pronunciation and speech habits. The self-image that healthy teeth give a child is immeasurable. Primary teeth also guide eruption of the permanent teeth around age 6.
Since primary teeth guide the permanent teeth into place, infants with missing primary teeth or infants who prematurely lose primary teeth may require a space maintainer, a device used to hold the natural space open. Without a maintainer, the teeth can tilt toward the empty space and cause permanent teeth to come in crooked. Family history of missing teeth should always be mentioned to your dentist.
The way you and your child cares for his/her primary teeth plays a critical role in how he/she treats their permanent teeth. Children and adults are equally susceptible to plaque and gum problems—hence, the need for regular care and dental checkups. Be sure to schedule your child’s first dental visit around his/her first birthday. Adult dental problems are almost exclusively introduced during childhood.
Permanent teeth will begin to grow around age 3 underneath the gums and bony structures of the mouth. Permanent teeth should all be present by the age of 14. A pediatric dentist at one interval will record these structures using an x-ray called a panorex x-ray. The panorex view allows the dentist to see all of the oral structures and determine growth and development. Usually this x-ray view is taken for the first time at age 6 upon eruption of the first permanent teeth and followed up again around age 9-10 for continued monitoring of growth and development.