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Your child’s tooth development

February 26, 2018 Children's Dentistry

Baby teeth are important

A child’s first baby tooth starts to develop around week 14 in utero.

It is a complex process of formation and calcification which results in the creation of a tooth. A child’s first permanent molar begins calcifying around the time of birth and will continue developing until the age of 5 or 6 years of age.

Dental development mimics jaw development, growing slowly with the addition of new teeth until approximately the age of 18.

A child has 20 baby teeth that are replaced by 32 permanent teeth. The 12 permanent molar teeth erupt into the mouth behind the baby teeth. As a child grows, the roots of the baby teeth are dissolved by pressure from the erupting permanent teeth. This process follows a precise timeline with each baby tooth being lost at a particular time.

Many people believe that a child’s first teeth are not important as they will eventually be lost and replaced by permanent teeth. As a result, many children do not receive dental care at an early age, often waiting until their permanent teeth erupt.

A child’s first teeth are just as important as their permanent teeth. Untreated dental infection in a baby tooth has the potential to cause a life threatening situation.

Baby teeth are necessary for a child to speak, chew and help maintain space for the permanent teeth to erupt.

dental development 3-4 years

Dental development between 3.5-4.5 years: the primary teeth (white) will be replaced by the permanent teeth (blue)

dental development 5-6 years

Dental development between 5.5-6.5 years: the primary teeth maintain space for the permanent teeth to erupt

dental development 9-10 years

Dental development between 9.5-10.5 years: the primary teeth guide the permanent teeth into their correct position

Early loss of a baby tooth may have a dramatic result on the eruption pattern of the permanent teeth.

For example, should a baby molar tooth (a tooth that is usually lost around 10.5 yrs) be lost prematurely, the first permanent molar tooth (that erupts into the mouth at 6 yrs) may drift forward to fill the space where the baby tooth was lost.

This forward movement of the permanent molar may block the eruption pathway of another permanent tooth. In other words, one permanent tooth may end up above another.

Extensive orthodontics or even surgery may then be required to correct such a problem.

baby tooth lost
baby tooth lost


The sucking instinct in newborn babies is a powerful one and often helps a child to settle.

It is quite common for new born infants to suck their thumb or fingers, while other children may benefit from the use of pacifiers. Pacifier use and finger sucking are believed to be harmless habits and their use does not alter dentition if its use is stopped by age 2 to 3.

Dummies dipped in sweet substances place your child at risk of tooth decay.

protusion upper front teeth

Protusion upper front teeth as a resultof thumb sucking

If however, the sucking continues beyond 3-4 years of age, the risks of harmful effects on the developing dentition and jaws increase. The most notable changes are an anterior open bite, posterior cross bite, narrow arch width of the maxillary (upper) arch, and a high narrow palate.

The longer thumb or pacifier sucking extends beyond the age of 5, the greater the adverse effects become.

If there is a size difference between the teeth and the growing jaws, your dentist or orthodontist may be able to either move the teeth or change the growth pattern of the developing jaws using different types of appliances or plates.

Infants should have their first visit to the Dentist by 12 months of age and children should receive regular 6 monthly check-ups. It’s imperative that dental problems are detected early to help minimise adverse outcomes.

B.D.S(Hons).(Syd). MDSc (Melb, Grad.Dip.Clin.Dent (Oral Implants), Grad.Dip.Clin.Dent (Conscious Sedation & Pain Control), FRACDS, Senior Clinical Associate (Uni of Syd), Dental Surgeon, Chairperson NSW Regional Committee – Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons.