January 16, 2011
AN EASY TO READ GUIDE TO THE ERUPTION OF THE PRIMARY TEETH
We have two sets of teeth that we acquire during our life. As both sets move from within the jaws from their location of formation to that of function, we say the teeth erupt into place. When the first set of teeth are lost to make room for the permanent teeth, we say that they are shed. The jaws of a child continue to grow, making room for the permanent (adult) teeth that will begin to erupt at about age 6 years. Primary teeth begin to shed between ages 6 and 7 years. This process continues until about age 12 years.
Although hidden from view in the newborn, children generally acquire a full set of primary or baby teeth (also called deciduous because they are eventually shed or milk teeth because they are so white), by the time they are three years old. Adults generally acquire a full set of secondary or adult teeth by age 13 or so, although the third molars or wisdom teeth can slowly erupt throughout early adulthood. Most children have 20 primary teeth, 10 in each of the upper and lower jaws. These teeth are eventually replaced by the permanent teeth, which begin to push through the gums as the permanent teeth are shed.
The primary teeth are temporary but deserve good care. They are of major importance to your child’s appearance, chewing ability for digestion, sound nutrition, speech and eventual health of the permanent teeth. The primary teeth hold a place in the jaw for the permanent teeth, which move into place as the primary teeth are shed. If a primary tooth is lost prematurely, the erupting permanent may be prevented from moving into its appropriate position, thereby creating spatial problems that can affect the bite as an adult.
The normal ages of eruption of all the teeth vary greatly from child to child, although the exact sequence in which the teeth erupt does not. Unnecessary concerns should not be created over a tooth that is retained somewhat beyond the norm, unless the adult tooth has been deflected by the baby tooth to the extent that they are both visually present.
Some children are born with teeth, and others may be twelve months old before the first tooth erupts. Most primary teeth erupt between the ages of 4 and 12 months. In the majority of cases the first teeth to erupt are the two lower front teeth (incisors) followed by the upper four incisors. Note that the front adult teeth tend to erupt somewhat behind the baby teeth showing two teeth at once, although the canines can be the exception. On the other hand, the adult premolar teeth erupt beneath the roots of the baby molar teeth. The child’s jaws continue to grow, making room for the permanent teeth that will begin to erupt at about age 6 years. Primary teeth begin to shed between ages 6 and 7 years. This process continues until about age 12 years.
You can follow the progression of events on the diagrams. Around age 2-3 years all 20 primary teeth have usually erupted. The last primary teeth are usually lost around age 11-12 years. At age 9 many children will still have primary teeth. Sometimes permanent teeth have problems erupting or never even form.
THE PRIMARY (BABY) TEETH
THE SECONDARY (ADULT) TEETH
Recognizing the importance of the primary teeth to the child, they should be kept clean and healthy. Supervised oral hygiene by the parent(s), the proper administration of fluorides and routine professional visits to the dental office are highly recommended.
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