Understanding the Different Stages of Tooth Development in Children

Most parents today know the importance of proper dental care for their children’s teeth. However, to give kids the best chance of healthy teeth for a lifetime, the specifics may not be quite so clear. 

When should dental visits begin? How old are children when they lose all their primary teeth? What if they don’t lose them according to schedule; does that hurt their permanent teeth? How early should kids begin brushing their teeth?

Every child’s development is unique, including the development of their teeth. Guidelines are necessary, but don’t be alarmed if your child is behind–or even ahead–of schedule in their tooth development. 

To help provide more clarity, this article summarizes the different stages of tooth development in children. We will also offer tips on children’s dental care in general and how to help ensure that your child’s dental visits go smoothly.

An Overview of Children’s Tooth Development 

Primary Teeth (aka “Baby Teeth”)

Like all other parts of a baby’s body, the teeth start developing before birth, generally as early as six weeks after conception. This is why the mother’s prenatal care, including diet, is so important. Calcium, phosphorous, vitamin C, and vitamin D are essential to the healthy development of the baby’s teeth. In addition, doctors often recommend that mothers avoid certain medications because they can discolor the baby’s teeth before birth. 

After the baby is born, parents should start seeing the first teeth erupt between 6 to 10 months. Keep in mind, though, that these are guidelines only. It may be 12 months before some babies have their first teeth. 

Once the first tooth erupts, it will probably be one of the middle front teeth on the lower jaw. This is called the central incisor. The last teeth to come in will be the second molars and that will be around age two.

Once a child is six or seven, the first teeth that erupt during infancy will be the first ones to fall out. The timeline will reverse for all the teeth until they lose the second molars around age 12.

Parents may find this chart below, developed by The American Dental Association, helpful as their child’s primary teeth develop:

Baby Teeth

Permanent Teeth 

As the primary teeth are lost, the permanent teeth will begin to replace them. This can start as early as age four or five, but generally around age six or seven. By their 12th birthday, most or all of the primary teeth will have been shed. Most people, by age 21, have all 32 permanent teeth. 

Permanent Teeth

An additional molar, which is often called the wisdom tooth, comes in behind the second molar as the young person matures. It is common for these third molars to be removed. Your dentist will determine if this is necessary, based on symptoms like jaw pain, infection of the soft tissue behind those molars, gum disease, repeated decay, or teeth overcrowding.

Preventing Tooth Decay in Children

The most helpful action parents can take as their children’s teeth develop is preventative dental health. Good oral hygiene and healthy eating habits instilled in children will reduce the chance of tooth decay in both the short and long term.

Incorporate these practices into the child’s daily routine as soon as possible:

  • Clean your baby’s teeth as soon as they appear using a soft cloth or a soft toothbrush and water.
  • Start using a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth at around 18 months of age. Teach them not to swallow toothpaste.
  • Model proper brushing for your child and then help them do it themselves twice a day with your supervision until they are seven or eight years old. Allow them to do it on their own after that, with occasional checks by parents.
  • Have healthy snacks and a wide variety of nutritious food available to them. 
  • Don’t keep sugary foods and drinks in the house. This includes candy, cookies, soft drinks, flavored milk, or sugary fruit juices. Save them for special occasions.
  • Offer water regularly as the drink of choice. Build this habit early.

The instances of tooth decay will be significantly less if these habits are instilled in children early. 

If your child does develop a cavity, your family or pediatric dentist needs to address it as soon as possible. Depending on the age of the child, specialist treatment under general anesthetic may be needed. Decayed teeth left untreated leads to pain, abscesses, and problems with the surrounding teeth. Your child’s sleep and eating can also be affected by severe tooth decay.

Tips for Positive Dental Visits for Your Child

It’s up to the parents to lay a good foundation for a positive relationship between the dentist and their child. If you have had negative experiences at the dentist, put those aside as you prepare your child for their dental visits.

Here are some ways you can help make your child’s visits to the dentist a positive one:

  • Read children’s stories about visits to the dentist. Highlight the interesting and fun aspects of visiting the dental clinic. 
  • Before they have their first appointment, take your child with you when you have a check-up. They can see for themselves what happens and won’t be fearful when they go to the dentist’s office for the first time.
  • Talk about dental visits as a regular part of their health routine. 
  • Try to schedule dental appointments early in the day so your child isn’t tired or hungry.
  • Be well prepared on the day of their first appointment. Get there a little early if possible so the child doesn’t feel rushed. 
  • During their office visits, let the dentist and hygienists have your child’s full attention. They will make your child feel comfortable during the visit.
  • Enjoy a fun activity after the dental visit. 
  • Don’t reward them with candy after the dental visit! This isn’t the time to offer sweets.

The Team Approach Is Best as Your Child’s Teeth Develop

Understanding how a child’s teeth develop helps parents ensure that they get the best care. A child’s primary teeth begin coming in any time between six to twelve months of age and complete that process by about the age of 12. Then the permanent teeth begin to replace the primary teeth, with most people having all 32 permanent teeth by age 21. This knowledge, coupled with a solid dental hygiene program at home, gives any child the best chance of healthy teeth and gums for a lifetime.

Here at TLC Dental Center in Cherry Hill, we stand ready to be part of your dental team! Dr. Julie Kardon uses the latest technology available while providing a pleasant and stress-free experience suitable for any child.

We’re here to ensure that your child gets the best dental care available and keeps their teeth as healthy as possible, both today and into the future.

Contact us now to schedule your appointment!