baby teeth vary in size, shape, and location in the jaws. These differences enable teeth to work together to help you chew, speak, and smile. They also help give your face its shape and form. At birth people usually have 20 baby (primary) teeth, which start to come in (erupt) at about 6 months of age. They fall out (shed) at various times throughout childhood. By age 21, all 32 of the permanent teeth have usually erupted.
A baby’s 20 primary teeth are already present in the jaws at birth and typically begin to appear when a baby is between 6 months and 1 year.
Most children have a full set of 20 primary teeth by the time they are 3. Check out this baby teeth eruption chart to see the order in which teeth breakthrough and at what ages you can expect specific teeth to appear. Every child is different, but usually the first teeth to come in are located in the top and bottom front of their mouth.
When teeth first come in, some babies may have sore or tender gums. Gently rubbing your child’s gums with a clean finger, a small, cool spoon or a wet gauze pad can be soothing. You can also give the baby a clean teething ring to chew on. If your child is still cranky and in pain, consult your dentist or physician.
There is a wide range of variability of when a first tooth may appear—some babies may not have any teeth by their first birthday! Around 3 months of age, babies will begin exploring the world with their mouths and have increased saliva and start to put their hands in their mouths. Many parents question whether or not this means that their baby is teething, but a first tooth usually appears around 6 months old. Typically, the first teeth to come in are almost always the lower front teeth (the lower central incisors), and most children will usually have all of their baby teeth by age 3.
Baby teeth are very important to your child’s health and development. They help him or her chew, speak, and smile. They also hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are growing under the gums. When a baby tooth is lost too early, the permanent teeth can drift into the empty space and make it difficult for other adult teeth to find room when they come in. This can make teeth crooked or crowded. That’s why starting infants off with good oral care can help protect their teeth for decades to come.
Fluoride is a mineral that helps prevent tooth decay by hardening the enamel of teeth. The good news is that fluoride is often added to tap water. Give your baby a few ounces of water in a sippy or straw cup when you begin him or her on solid foods (about 6 months of age). Speak with your pediatrician to see if your tap water contains fluoride or whether your child needs fluoride supplements. Fluoride is not typically found in most bottled water.
Massaging sore gums, offering something cold, or acetaminophen, on an occasional rough night, can help soothe your baby’s teething pain.
Usually, teething doesn’t cause children too much discomfort, however, many parents can tell when their baby is teething. Babies may show signs of discomfort in the area where the tooth is coming in, the gums around the tooth may be swollen and tender, and the baby may drool a lot more than usual.
Parents can help ease teething pain by massaging their baby’s gums with clean fingers, offering solid, not liquid-filled, teething rings, or a clean frozen or wet washcloth. If you offer a teething biscuit, make sure to watch your baby while he or she is eating it. Chunks can break off easily and can lead to choking. Also, these biscuits are not very nutritious and most contain sugar and salt.
A baby’s body temperature may slightly rise when teething; however, according to a 2016 study in Pediatrics, a true fever (temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius) is not associated with teething and is actually a sign of an illness or infection that may require treatment. If your baby is clearly uncomfortable, talk with your pediatrician about giving a weight-appropriate dose of acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or if over 6 months, ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin). Make sure to ask your pediatrician for the right dose in milliliters (mL) based on your child’s age and weight.
Many children, however, will have no problems at all when their teeth come in!
Do not use teething tablets, gels with benzocaine, homeopathic teething gels or tablets, or amber teething necklaces.
Stay away from teething tablets that contain the plant poison belladonna and gels with benzocaine. Belladonna and benzocaine are marketed to numb your child’s pain, but the FDA has issued warnings against both due to potential side effects.
In addition, amber teething necklaces are not recommended. Necklaces placed around an infant’s neck can pose a strangulation risk or be a potential choking hazard. There is also no research to support the necklace’s effectiveness.
After the first tooth comes in and no later than the first birthday. A dental visit at an early age is a “well-baby checkup” for the teeth. Besides checking for cavities and other problems, the dentist can show you how to clean the child’s teeth properly and how to handle habits like thumb sucking. Learn more about how to prepare for this visit.
Once your child has a tooth, you should be brushing them twice a day with a smear of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice, especially after the last drink or food of the day. Remember not to put your baby to bed with a bottle—it can lead to tooth decay.
Once your child turns 3, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Dental Association (ADA), and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD)recommend that a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste be used when brushing. When your child is able, teach him or her to spit out the excess toothpaste. It is best if you put the toothpaste on the toothbrush until your child is about age 6. Parents should monitor and assist their child while brushing until he or she is around 7 or 8 years old. When your child can write his or her name well, he or she also has the ability to brush well.
It’s important to care for your baby’s teeth from the start. Here’s what to do:
During regular well-child visits, your pediatrician will check your baby’s teeth and gums to ensure they are healthy and talk to you about how to keep them that way. The AAP and the United States Preventive Services Task Force also recommend that children receive fluoride varnish once they have teeth. If your child does not yet have a dentist, ask your pediatrician if he or she can apply fluoride varnish to your baby’s teeth. Once your child has a dentist, the varnish can be applied in the dental office. The earlier your child receives fluoride varnish the better to help prevent tooth decay.
Try to make your baby’s first dental appointment after the eruption of the first tooth and by his or her first birthday.
Both the AAP and the AAPD recommend that all children see a pediatric dentist and establish a “dental home” by age one. A pediatric dentist will make sure all teeth are developing normally and that there are no dental problems. He or she will also give you further advice on proper hygiene. If you don’t have a pediatric dentist in your community, find a general dentist who is comfortable seeing young children.
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