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How Do I Care for My Child's Baby Teeth?
Though you lose them early in life, your primary teeth, also called baby teeth, are essential in the development and placement of your permanent teeth. Primary teeth maintain the spaces where permanent teeth will erupt and help develop proper speech patterns that would otherwise be difficult; without maintenance of these spaces, crowding and misalignment can occur, resulting in more complicated treatment later. Baby teeth also are primers for teaching your child good oral care habits. It is important to take care of your child's primary teeth. Even though primary teeth last only a few years, decay, cavities and infection can take its toll and may require expensive treatment to repair.
When do baby teeth come in?
Your child's primary teeth generally make their appearance when he or she is 6 or 7 months old, though it can occur as early as birth. There are 20 primary teeth, followed by 32 permanent teeth that will eventually replace them. Your child should have all his or her primary teeth at age 3 and will keep them until age 5 or 6, when they begin to loosen and fall out. This process usually lasts until the child is 12 or 13. Primary teeth fall out because permanent teeth are pushing them, and by about age 14 children have 28 permanent teeth, plus four additional teeth, called wisdom teeth, that grow behind the permanent teeth in late adolescence.
What can relieve my child's discomfort during teething?
Between the ages of 6 months and 3 years, your child may experience sore gums and general oral discomfort as primary teeth erupt. While some lucky children experience no apparent discomfort during eruption, many others do. Signs that eruption is causing discomfort in your child include crankiness, lack of appetite, excessive drooling, restless behavior, pink or red cheeks, coughing, upset stomach and chewing or sucking of fingers and toys. There are ways you can bring your child relief. A cold, wet cloth for your baby to suck on can sooth gums. There are also teething accessories and toys your child can chew on to relieve discomfort. Thumb sucking also brings relief, however, dentists recommend this practice should cease upon the arrival of the first permanent teeth, so it does not interfere with the normal development of a child's oral cavity.
Should loose primary teeth be pulled?
Losing primary teeth before they are ready to fall out can affect the proper positioning of the permanent teeth. If a baby tooth is lost too early, other teeth may tip or fill in the vacant space, forcing permanent teeth to come in crooked. If a baby tooth is knocked out, see your dentist, who may recommend a space maintainer to reserve the gap until the permanent tooth comes in. In instances where a primary tooth is loose because of the emergence of a permanent tooth, have the child wiggle the tooth or eat something hard, such as an apple, to help it along. Once the shell of the tooth is disconnected from the root, the discomfort in extracting a loose primary tooth is minimal.
Updated: February 2007
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