Children have two sets of teeth, baby and adult. Their baby teeth start forming long before birth and are fully replaced by adult teeth by the time they become teenagers. Some will have to go through the discomfort of braces to get straight adult teeth. As children lose their baby teeth, they need to learn how to properly care for their adult teeth to ensure a lifetime of dental health.
Children's baby teeth start developing while they are still in the womb. The basic substance of baby teeth start forming when the fetus is 6 weeks old. By the third or fourth month of pregnancy, hard tissue has surrounded the teeth. Baby teeth erupt through the child's gum starting at around 9 months old and finish when the child is a little past 2 years old.
Children start losing their baby teeth at about age 6. The baby teeth loosen and fall out on their own to make room for adult teeth. The first baby teeth to erupt are usually the first to fall out and girls usually lose their baby teeth earlier than boys. The lower incisors (two bottom front teeth), are the first to go, followed by the upper central incisors (two top front teeth), lateral incisors and first molars. The canines and second molars are the last teeth to fall out, around the age of 12 or 13.
Sometimes, a loose tooth does not fall out immediately. To pull it out, grab it gently with a piece of gauze or tissue wrapped around it and twist. If it does not come out, wait a few days to try again. An extraction at a dentist's office may be necessary as a last resort.
Sometimes, a child's baby tooth falls out prematurely because of tooth decay or an accident, allowing the adult tooth to come out before there is enough room for it. The lack of space may cause the adult tooth to come out crooked, in which case braces may be needed. Even when the adult teeth come out in order, some children's mouths are too small or their upper and lower jaws are not the same size.
While braces have traditionally been thought to be a procedure done on children, only after all of their adult teeth have come out, an increasing number of orthodontists are evaluating and treating children when they still have their baby teeth because they believe that creating sufficient space for the adult teeth as early as possible is more effective. Whether a child should get braces while the baby teeth are still present depends on individual situations.
Since adult teeth need to last a lifetime, it is important that children learn to properly clean their teeth. Acid, bacteria, saliva and additional food debris combine to form plaque, which can dissolve tooth enamel and cause cavities. Untreated cavities can cause pain, infection and tooth loss. Children need to brush their teeth thoroughly, especially near the gum lines and molars where plaque is most prominent, at least twice a day, floss at least once a day and get a professional cleaning once every six months. Since plaque starts to build 20 minutes after eating, brushing after every meal, especially after eating sugary foods, is the best habit for children to develop.