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Your Baby Teeth Primer: 5 Things Every Parent Should Know

Taking care of your little one's teeth starts before the first tooth even emerges!

If you've got an infant or toddler, you're probably on high alert to spot and treat some of the more common afflictions of childhood -- from coughs and colds to ear infections and more. You've been trained to arm yourself with the facts, practice basic healthy habits and be on constant lookout for potential problems. So why should you be any less vigilant about your child's dental care?

With so much attention given to kid's physical health, dental health often gets pushed to the sidelines. That's too bad, since tooth decay is the single most common childhood disease. In fact, it occurs in more children than asthma and allergies! The good news is that tooth decay is completely preventable. Here's what you need to know to help ensure your little one's baby teeth are as well taken care of as the rest of her.

What You Should Know

1. Just because baby teeth are temporary doesn't mean they don't matter.

Temporary doesn’t mean unimportant. In fact, your baby’s pearly whites help your child chew food easily and pronounce words properly. They also save space for permanent teeth. If a baby tooth is lost too early, the teeth beside it may drift into the empty space. There may not be enough room left when it’s time for the permanent teeth to come in. The result is crowded or crooked teeth.

2. Baby teeth arrive in a basic pattern, but there is plenty of room for variability.

If you're like most parents, you might be worried that if your child doesn't have any baby teeth by nine months or a year, it means something is wrong. But when it comes to getting the first set of teeth, there is a wide normal range of variability. Although the average appearance of the first tooth is around six months of age, it could be much sooner or much later.


The general pattern of eruption is that the two middle upper and lower teeth (central incisors) come in first. They are followed by the teeth next to them, the lateral incisors. The cuspids (or canines) follow, then the first and second molars. By the time your child is 3 years old, he or she will have a full set of 20 primary teeth. Here are the approximate ages when primary teeth make their appearance:

Upper Teeth Lower Teeth

Central Incisors 8 - 12 months 6 - 10 months
Lateral Incisors 9-13 months 10 to 16 months
Cuspids (Canines) 16 - 22 months 17 to 23 months
First Molars 13 to 19 months 14 to 18 months
Second Molars 25 to 33 months 23 to 31 months

3. Baby's dental cavities are worth fixing.

It's tempting to think that since your child's baby teeth are going to fall out eventually, there's no need to spend the time or money to fill cavities. But don't be fooled! Infection from decayed baby teeth can damage the permanent teeth developing under them. And cavities only stay pain-free for so long -- at some point, your little one may be hurting. Plus, an untreated dental cavity could become more severe, requiring a root canal or tooth extraction.

4. Dental care for baby starts early.

Your child is at risk for tooth decay as soon as the first tooth appears. That means protecting the health of baby teeth starts much earlier than you might think -- before the first teeth even emerge! After each feeding, wipe your baby's gums with a clean, damp washcloth or a clean gauze pad. Once the first tooth appears, start brushing! Use a small, soft-bristled toothbrush twice a day. To prevent dental fluorosis, use fluoride-free toothpaste, a pea-sized amount of paste or just water. Add flossing to your routine as soon as there are spaces where two teeth are close together.

5. Your child should visit a dentist by age 1.

That may sound too early, but it's not! Your child's first dental visit will probably be short -- it's just a chance for the dentist to count teeth and spot any early signs of trouble. You may choose to see a pediatric dentist who specializes in working with kids, although many general dentists are also comfortable seeing children.

Even if you take pristine care of your child's teeth, cavities can still happen. A great dentist can help make sure your little one's baby teeth stay in tip-top shape.

 
 
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