Most of us remember the mixed emotions when we started losing our own teeth as kids, but it was so long ago! You probably find yourself wondering, when do kids start losing teeth?
We recall the excitement that we were finally achieving a big-kid milestone (and, of course, that we’d get a visit from the tooth fairy), nervousness that it would hurt or that we would swallow it in our sleep, and anxiousness while we eagerly awaited our very first lost tooth. As parents, we get to relive all of those feelings through our kids.
But what if your kid loses a tooth way younger than you expected (say, younger than 4 years old), or what if your child is 7 and hasn’t lost a tooth yet? Who would have thought we’d have so many questions about losing teeth? Don’t worry, we’ll answer them all.
- When do kids start losing teeth?
- Average age range for the start of primary tooth loss
- Which teeth typically fall out first, and does it matter if they don’t fall out in that order?
- Factors affecting the timing of primary tooth loss
- What are the signs that my child is close to losing their first baby tooth?
- How to prepare your kid before they lose their teeth
- Caring for primary teeth
- Why is it important to take care of baby teeth?
- How to encourage good oral health habits
- Frequently asked questions about primary tooth loss
- Let’s make tooth loss fun!
When do kids start losing teeth?
Like most milestones, the age range when kids start losing their baby teeth (also called primary teeth, milk teeth or deciduous teeth) is pretty wide. That said, there is a general average range that can help parents assess whether it might be worth speaking with a dentist. Regardless, it can never hurt to ask for a professional opinion if you are worried.
Average age range for the start of primary tooth loss
The average age range for the start of primary tooth loss can vary among children. However, kids will typically lose their first teeth between the ages of 5 and 7 years old.
It’s important to note that the timing of primary tooth loss can vary from child to child. Some children may begin losing their baby teeth as early as 4 years old, while others may not start until closer to 7 years of age. This age range is due to genetic factors, the child’s development and overall oral health.
If you’re worried that your child may have lost a tooth too young or the opposite—they’re closer to 7 and haven’t yet lost a tooth—it’s best to consult with your child’s dentist. They can assess your child’s dental health, address any questions or concerns you may have, and provide appropriate guidance based on your child’s unique circumstances.
Which teeth typically fall out first, and does it matter if they don’t fall out in that order?
Most commonly, the central lower incisors (the two front bottom teeth) are the first to go, followed by the central upper incisors (the two upper front teeth), lateral incisors (the two teeth beside the two top front teeth, one on each side), and first molars. The canines and second molars are usually the last to be lost.
The order of primary tooth loss can occasionally deviate from the norm. For example, a child may lose a lateral incisor before losing the corresponding central incisor. This variation is generally not a cause for concern, as long as the permanent teeth are erupting and developing properly.
That said, if primary teeth are lost prematurely due to decay, trauma, or other reasons, the eruption and alignment of permanent teeth can be affected. In such cases, it is essential to consult with a pediatric dentist for appropriate management and guidance.
Factors affecting the timing of primary tooth loss
Your neighbour’s daughter lost her first tooth at 5 and by 7 she had a toothless grin, having lost 6 teeth and counting, while your 7 year old son just lost his very first tooth and none of his other teeth even seem wiggly. Why is there such a huge difference between kids?
Genetic influences on tooth eruption:
Genetics can play a role in the timing of when kids start losing teeth. Just as children inherit physical traits from their parents, the sequence and timing of tooth eruption can also be influenced by genetics. If you experienced early or delayed tooth loss yourself, there is a possibility that your children may follow a similar pattern.
Impact of Nutrition and Oral Health on Primary Teeth:
Nutrition and oral health practices can have an impact on the timing of when kids start losing teeth. A healthy diet rich in essential nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D, contributes to the proper development and strength of your child’s teeth.
It’s a good idea to prioritize oral hygiene habits, such as regular brushing and flossing, as they help maintain healthy gums and reduce the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. When a child’s overall oral health is well-maintained, it can support the normal eruption and exfoliation (which is the word to describe when permanent adult teeth pop out) of primary teeth.
Variations in Developmental Milestones:
Children reach their developmental milestones at different times and primary tooth loss is no exception. Factors such as the child’s overall growth and development, bone structure and individual variation can influence when their primary teeth begin to loosen and fall out. Some children may lose their teeth earlier or later due to these developmental differences.
What are the signs that my child is close to losing their first baby tooth?
Loose Teeth: The First Sign of Primary Tooth Loss
This is the most obvious sign that everyone know about: a loose tooth. You may notice that your child’s tongue poking and prodding around in a different way—remember that feeling of moving a loose tooth with your tongue? It’s pretty satisfying. The looseness occurs as the adult tooth beneath starts to push against the roots of the baby tooth, causing it to become less stable.
As the baby tooth becomes looser, you may observe changes in the surrounding gum tissue. The gums around the tooth may appear slightly swollen or inflamed. Additionally, you might notice a small gap forming between the gum and the base of the tooth.
Discomfort or sensitivity:
Some children experience mild discomfort or sensitivity as their baby tooth starts to loosen. They may complain of a slight ache or tenderness around the affected tooth. This discomfort is usually temporary and resolves once the tooth fully falls out.
Changes in bite or spacing:
The loosening of the baby tooth can result in changes in your child’s bite. You might notice a slight shift in their bite alignment as the neighboring teeth adjust to the space created by the loosening tooth. Additionally, you may observe a small gap forming between the baby tooth and the adjacent teeth.
Eruption of A permanent tooth:
In some cases, you may see the new adult teeth starting to emerge behind or alongside the baby teeth that are loose. It might appear as a small, white bump or edge breaking through the gum tissue.
It’s important to note that the signs of impending tooth loss may vary from child to child. Some children may experience these signs more prominently, while others may not exhibit noticeable symptoms. Additionally, the timing and sequence of tooth loss can differ for each child.
Encourage your child to gently wiggle the loose tooth with their clean hands or tongue. However, it’s crucial to advise against forcefully pulling the tooth, as this can lead to injury or premature loss.
If you have concerns about your child’s tooth eruption or if there are any complications, it’s best to consult with a pediatric dentist. They can evaluate your child’s dental development, provide appropriate guidance, and address any specific concerns you may have.
How to prepare your kid before they lose their teeth
Around age 4 or earlier, start reading picture books about loose teeth to normalize the experience and get your child excited about the milestone. If you are planning to have the tooth fairy pay your child a visit, find some cute books about that as well.
This begins a conversation about it so it’s not a surprise. Not only that, but this way, when a tooth is loose, they’ll be so excited to tell you about it.
Caring for primary teeth
As parents, it seems logical to have a bit of a laissez-faire approach to dental care for your young child’s baby teeth. Obviously you want to follow the recommendations as much as possible, but every parent know the struggle of trying to brush a kid’s teeth—whether they’re wiggly, think it’s funny to refuse to open their mouth or behaving as if you are torturing them. Having to hold your child’s mouth open isn’t fun for anyone.
It can make any parent wonder whether it’s actually that important to brush your kid’s teeth every day and if this is one of those battles worth letting go… the baby teeth are just going to fall out anyway, right? Well, not quite. Yes, the teeth will fall out, but here’s why taking care of these baby teeth is still important:
Why is it important to take care of baby teeth?
Proper function and nutrition:
Baby teeth play a vital role in a child’s ability to speak clearly, chew food effectively, and maintain proper nutrition. Healthy teeth allow children to eat a well-balanced diet, promoting their overall growth and development.
Jaw development and alignment:
Primary teeth serve as placeholders for the permanent teeth that will eventually replace them. By maintaining the health and integrity of primary teeth, they help guide the permanent teeth into their proper positions. This promotes correct jaw development and alignment, and may reduce the likelihood of future orthodontic issues.
Baby teeth are crucial for the development of clear speech patterns. They contribute to the proper formation of sounds and aid in articulation. Losing primary teeth prematurely due to tooth decay or other dental issues can impact a child’s ability to speak clearly and may require speech therapy intervention.
Self-esteem and confidence:
Healthy primary teeth contribute to a child’s smile. Having a healthy set of teeth can positively impact a child’s self-esteem, confidence, and social interactions. On the other hand, dental issues or premature loss of the first baby teeth can negatively affect a child’s self-image and emotional well-being.
Prevention of dental issues:
Although baby teeth are temporary, they are still susceptible to dental problems such as tooth decay and cavities. Neglecting proper dental care for primary teeth can lead to pain, infection and potential complications that may require extensive treatment. Maintaining good oral hygiene habits and regular dental visits help prevent these issues and establish a foundation for lifelong oral health.
Establishing oral care habits:
Caring for baby teeth sets the stage for good oral hygiene habits in the future. Teaching children the importance of brushing their teeth, using fluoride toothpaste and flossing from an early age helps instill proper oral care practices that they can carry into adulthood. It promotes a lifetime of healthy oral habits and reduces the risk of dental problems.
How to encourage good oral health habits
Establish a Dental Routine for Children
Establishing a dental routine for children is essential for maintaining their oral health. Start by introducing a toothbrush as soon as their first tooth erupts. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste appropriate for their age. Make sure that they brush their teeth twice a day, morning and night, for two minutes each time—this is something that you must take responsibility for as parents, in the same way you are responsible for taking care of their health in other ways.
As they grow older, teach them how to spit out the toothpaste rather than swallowing it. Introduce flossing when their teeth begin to touch each other. Make dental care a fun and positive experience by using age-appropriate toothbrushes, letting them choose their toothpaste flavor, and praising their efforts.
Make brushing fun!
Many parents have a hard time encouraging their little ones to open up for teeth brushing, making the whole experience unpleasant for everyone. Here are some tried-and-true tips for parents of resistant little brushers:
- My son is obsessed with animals so I would tell him to show me his biggest lion roar. I would create a pretend scenario where I had to brush the lion’s teeth and I needed to see how sharp his teeth were. When he opened his mouth I would explain “Oh my goodness!!! Your teeth are so sharp! You must be brushing really well to have such sharp lion teeth.” Use this idea tailored to your kid’s interest, it could be dinosaur teeth, robot teeth etc.
- There are some catchy teeth brushing songs that got my kids excited to brush. My kids loved this Elmo song about brushing. It’s about 90 seconds long so we would (attempt to) brush until the song was done. Here’s the music video version of the song that we would often watch while brushing.
- You can watch some educational videos outside of tooth-brushing time to get them excited about it, plus it’s something you can reference when it’s time to brush. This Elmo video is about going to the dentist. Both my sons were obsessed with Elmo and they wanted to do anything Elmo did. Maybe that will work for you and it may encourage your little one to brush like Elmo. We also really liked the Daniel Tiger episode when he visits the dentist.
- Read lots of kids books together about tooth brushing and going to the dentist.
Frequently asked questions about primary tooth loss
How many primary teeth do children typically lose?
Children typically have a total of 20 primary teeth, also known as baby teeth or deciduous teeth, and they lose all of them over the span of several years. These primary teeth start erupting around 6 months of age and continue to emerge until around the age of 2 to 3 years. The 20 primary teeth consist of the following types and numbers:
- 8 incisors: There are four incisors in the upper jaw (two central incisors and two lateral incisors) and four incisors in the lower jaw.
- 4 canines (cuspids): There are two canines in the upper jaw and two canines in the lower jaw. Canines have pointed edges and are located next to the lateral incisors.
- 8 molars: The primary molars include four first molars (two in the upper jaw and two in the lower jaw) and four second molars. The molars have a flat surface and are located at the back of the mouth.
What to do if a child’s primary tooth isn’t falling out?
It’s important to be patient and allow the tooth to come out naturally. The timing of tooth loss can vary among children, so there’s no need to be overly concerned if it takes longer for a particular tooth to fall out.
That said, if a baby tooth isn’t falling out for an extended period or if there are concerns about the eruption of the permanent tooth, it’s best to consult a pediatric dentist. They can evaluate the situation, take X-rays if necessary, and determine the best course of action. In some cases, the dentist may recommend extracting the baby tooth to facilitate the eruption of the permanent tooth.
Addressing Discomfort During Primary Tooth Loss
When your child is experiencing discomfort while losing baby teeth, there are several strategies you can try to help alleviate their discomfort:
Provide gentle oral care: Encourage your child to maintain good oral hygiene by brushing their teeth gently, including the area around the loose tooth. Using a soft-bristled toothbrush can help prevent irritation and minimize discomfort. Additionally, rinsing with warm saltwater (dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water) can provide some relief for sore gums.
Offer soft foods: If your child is experiencing discomfort while chewing, offer soft foods that are easier to eat. This can include mashed potatoes, yogurt, smoothies, soups, or other foods that require less chewing. Avoid foods that are hard, sticky, or crunchy, as they may aggravate the sensitive area around the loose tooth.
Apply cold compresses: If your child’s gums are swollen or tender, you can apply a cold compress to the outside of their cheek. A clean cloth or a cold gel pack wrapped in a cloth can help reduce inflammation and numb the area, providing temporary relief from discomfort. Apply the cold compress for short intervals, around 10-15 minutes at a time, and take breaks in between.
Over-the-counter pain relief: If your child is experiencing significant discomfort, you can consult with their pediatrician or dentist about the appropriate over-the-counter pain relief options for their age. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen, when used as directed, can help manage pain and reduce inflammation. Always follow the instructions and dosage recommendations provided by the healthcare professional.
Distraction and comforting techniques: Engage your child in activities or distractions to take their mind off the discomfort. This can include reading a book together, watching a favorite show, playing a game, or engaging in other enjoyable activities. Providing comfort and reassurance can also help alleviate any anxiety or concerns your child may have about losing their baby teeth.
Seek professional advice: If your child’s discomfort persists or intensifies, or if you notice any signs of infection or other complications, it’s important to consult with your child’s dentist. They can examine the affected area, provide appropriate treatment recommendations, and address any concerns you may have.
Remember, discomfort during the process of losing baby teeth is normal, but severe or prolonged pain should be evaluated by a dental professional.
Will Permanent Teeth Look Different from Primary Teeth?
Yes, permanent teeth will typically look different from primary teeth. Here are some key differences between permanent teeth and primary teeth:
Size and shape: Permanent teeth are generally larger and have a different shape compared to primary teeth. As your child grows, their jaw and facial structure develop, allowing space for the larger permanent teeth to emerge.
Color: Permanent teeth tend to have a slightly yellower hue compared to the whiter appearance of primary teeth. The color of permanent teeth can vary depending on factors like genetics, oral hygiene habits, and diet.
Number: Primary teeth consist of a total of 20 teeth, while permanent teeth include 32 teeth (including wisdom teeth, if they erupt). This means that there are additional teeth in the permanent dentition, including premolars and additional molars.
Eruption pattern: The sequence of eruption for permanent teeth differs from that of primary teeth. Permanent teeth typically begin to erupt around the age of 6 and continue until early adulthood. They follow a specific order, with the first molars erupting before the central incisors, lateral incisors, canines, premolars, and finally the second molars.
Roots: Permanent teeth generally have longer and more developed roots compared to the roots of primary teeth. The longer roots of permanent teeth help anchor them securely in the jawbone.
Durability: Permanent teeth are designed to last a lifetime. They are more durable and resistant to wear and tear compared to the thinner enamel of primary teeth, which are meant to serve as temporary placeholders for the permanent teeth.
It’s important to note that individual variations can occur in tooth appearance and characteristics. Factors such as genetics, oral health, and dental care practices can influence the specific appearance of permanent teeth. Regular dental check-ups, proper oral hygiene, and professional dental care can help ensure that your child’s permanent teeth develop and function optimally.
What do I need to know about wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth, also called the third molars, erupt in the back corners of the mouth and only begin to emerge between the age of 17-25. But not everyone has wisdom teeth! Some people have all four wisdom teeth, while others may have fewer or even none at all. The absence of wisdom teeth is not uncommon and is considered a normal variation in dental anatomy.
Some individuals may have their wisdom teeth fully erupted and functional, while others may have impacted wisdom teeth that fail to fully emerge. You may associate wisdom teeth with extraction, but this is only necessary when they are impacted, which can cause various issues, including pain, infection, damage to adjacent teeth, cyst formation, and shifting of other teeth.
If your child is around the age of losing their first teeth, there’s no need to worry about wisdom teeth for at least another another 10 years!
Let’s make tooth loss fun!
After you’ve learned al the facts, don’t forget that this is a really fun and exciting time for your kids! Celebrate the milestone of losing teeth however you’d like. Have fun with it! Making tooth loss a fun and exciting experience for your kids can help create positive associations with this natural part of their dental development. Here are some ideas to make losing teeth enjoyable:
Create a tooth fairy tradition: Introduce the concept of the Tooth Fairy, a mythical character who collects children’s lost teeth and leaves a small gift or money in exchange. Encourage your child to place their lost tooth under their pillow before going to bed and enjoy the anticipation of waking up to a surprise from the Tooth Fairy. Some parents prefer to be more honest, in which case it’s okay to frame it as a fun game using our imagination and playing pretend.
Make a tooth loss chart or calendar: Create a colorful chart or calendar to track your child’s tooth loss journey. Let them decorate it with stickers, drawings, or photos for each lost tooth. This visual representation can make the experience more engaging and exciting for them.
Throw a tooth loss celebration: Whether or not you incorporate the Tooth Fairy tradition, you can create your own unique family tradition to celebrate each lost tooth. Decorate the house with tooth-themed decorations, prepare special tooth-shaped treats or snacks, or invite close family members for a mini party after that very first lost tooth. This will make your kid feel really special.
Share tooth loss stories: Share your own tooth loss stories or fun anecdotes from your childhood. Hearing about your own tooth fairy encounters or memorable tooth loss moments can make the process feel more special and be a good bonding opportunity.
Create a tooth loss keepsake box: Help your child create a special box or container to keep their lost teeth. Decorate it together and label it as their “Tooth Collection.” This can serve as a tangible reminder of their tooth loss journey and a fun memento for them to cherish as they grow older.
Remember, the key is to make tooth loss a positive and exciting event for your child. By incorporating these creative ideas, you can transform the process of losing baby teeth into a delightful and memorable part of their childhood.