From the moment they start to erupt at around six months of age, baby teeth play an essential role in the orthodontic process. These tiny teeth pave the way for adult teeth, creating space, and eventually falling out to allow permanent teeth to take up their rightful position in the mouth.
When looking at your child’s orthodontic future, here’s what you need to know about the value of baby teeth.
They’re place holders
Aside from enabling your child to eat and speak, one of the most important roles that baby teeth play is in creating and maintaining a space for the adult teeth that will follow them.
That’s why it’s critical to ensure baby teeth are well looked after. Should these teeth fall out prematurely due to trauma or decay, it can allow permanent teeth to shift into the incorrect space, which may ultimately lead to overcrowding.
If your child does lose baby teeth prematurely, a spacer/space maintainer may be advised to ensure enough room remains available for the incoming permanent teeth.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, if your child retains their baby teeth too long or a tooth does not fall out as the permanent tooth behind it comes in, it can also lead to overcrowding.
Timing and sequence of baby tooth loss
Children have 20 baby teeth and a general rule of thumb is they begin to fall out from about the age of six. It’s important to note this timeframe can vary. Some children may start losing baby teeth at four, others might lose them at seven. This is still considered a normal timeframe.
If your child loses baby teeth before the age of four, you should consult a dentist.
Generally baby teeth fall out in the same pattern as they erupted, with the first two that come out being the bottom front teeth (lower central incisors), followed by the two top front teeth (upper central incisors). The lateral incisors, first baby molars, canines and second molars are then lost in that order.
On average children will have lost eight teeth by the age of eight. The average adolescent will lose all their baby teeth by 14, and girls may lose their teeth faster than boys.
Meanwhile, all 32 adult teeth (including the four wisdom teeth) have usually erupted by the age of 17-21.
How teeth fall out
Generally, a baby tooth will only start to loosen when the adult tooth behind it begins to push it out. It can take several months for this process to occur, during which time your child’s tooth will probably wobble more and more.
In some cases, an adult tooth may erupt behind or in front of a baby tooth, and both will remain in place. This is commonly referred to as ‘shark’s teeth’ and is usually a temporary situation.
In rare cases, there may be no permanent tooth to come in, and as a result the baby tooth will remain in place indefinitely. This scenario is known as congenitally missing permanent teeth. The upper lateral incisors are among the teeth that are most often congenitally missing, and this situation affects up to two per cent of the population.
Early orthodontic assessment
The Australian Society of Orthodontics recommends children first visit an orthodontist at about the age of seven.
This initial appointment coincides with the eruption of the first adult teeth and allows an orthodontist like Dr Shimanto Purkayastha to gauge the progress of tooth loss, assess the size and shape of the jaw, and flag any potential problems that may occur in the future.
If necessary, Dr Purkayastha might then start addressing potential problems, working to create the space required for additional adult teeth, or remedying a bite that is clearly misaligned.
In many cases, early intervention can minimise and even eliminate future treatment, enabling an orthodontist to treat the growing jaw pre-emptively rather than fixing problems after they occur which may only be corrected surgically.
About Norwest Orthodontics
Norwest Orthodontics specialises in helping patients achieve a great smile, no matter their age. We feature a range of orthodontic treatments that span from early intervention right through to remedial adult work.