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Everything you need to know about milk teeth

We’ve all had them, but few of us will remember much about them. Milk teeth, which are more formally called ‘deciduous teeth’ because of the way they are shed, develop when we are just mere embryos. They erupt in infancy – hence the moniker ‘baby teeth’ – and fall out during childhood, making the way for our permanent adult teeth.

Why do we need milk teeth?

Milk teeth are necessary both for a child’s physical and mental development. While a baby’s mouth is not yet big enough to grow permanent adult teeth which will be needed in later life, smaller baby teeth grow in order to provide structure to the muscles of the jaw, ensure that the jaw grows to the correct size, and to provide a guide for the eruption path of later teeth.

During the early years, baby teeth also aid chewing and eating as babies transition from drinking milk to eating solid foods. Primary teeth also play a key role in children’s speech development.

When do milk teeth start to grow

Milk teeth begin emerging at a few months old and erupt in stages for the next couple of years. First, the central incisors emerge at 5-8 months, then the lateral incisors at 7-10 months. Next, the first molars show up between 11 and 18 months old, the canines between 16 and 20 months, and finally, the second molars complete the set by the age of 3, totalling 20 milk teeth altogether.

Most parents will have an inkling that their babies may be teething because their gums may appear sore and swollen and the teething process can cause a lot of discomfort, teething babies might cry a lot and put everything into their mouths in an attempt to soothe the pain. Other signs of teething also include flushed cheeks and excessive dribbling. Giving your baby something cold and hard to chew on can help with teething pain, such as a chilled teething ring or even just carrot sticks from the fridge.

How should we look after milk teeth?

Just like adult teeth, baby teeth need to be looked after. Sugary foods and acidic fizzy drinks will damage milk teeth, and even the sugars in milk can cause tooth decay if babies are allowed to sleep with their bottles of milk. Just like adults, babies and children should have their teeth brushed twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste – there are many on the market aimed at babies and children, including tasty strawberry ones – will help to keep teeth clean and healthy. Children under the age of six should always have their teeth brushed by an adult.

When it comes to nutrition, babies should get all the calcium and other nutrients they need from their breast or formula milk, while older children will need to make sure they drink plenty of cow’s milk and eat other calcium-rich foods such as cheese and leafy greens to support their developing teeth and bones.

As for taking kids to the dentist, unless you think there’s a problem, it’s not a requirement to take children to the dentist when they’re very young. However, it is recommended to begin taking children to the dentist as soon as their first milk teeth erupt, and routinely thereafter, both to catch any problems as they’re developing and to get kids used to visiting the dentist.

When do you lose your milk teeth

Of course, as young children get older they slowly lose their milk teeth – though this doesn’t mean that milk teeth don’t need looking after, too. In fact, if milk teeth are affected by tooth decay, this can also cause adult teeth growing underneath to be affected by tooth decay as well.

Milk teeth will gradually fall out during the course of primary school. The first baby teeth to go will be the central incisors at age 6-7, with the lateral incisors coming out a year later. Next the first molars and canines, which can fall out from around 9 to 11, and finally the second molars, by around 12. In their place, 32 full-size permanent teeth will grow, and these are built to last the rest of our lives. Adult teeth can take a long time to come in, especially if we include the wisdom teeth, which can often still be erupting well into our 30s.

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule. Fans of hit TV show Stranger Things might have noticed that Gaten Matarazzo, who plays Dustin on the show, hasn’t yet lost all of his baby teeth by age 15. That’s because Gaten has a rare condition called Cleidocranial dysostosis (CCD), which affects the development of teeth and bones, often causing both baby teeth and adult teeth to come in much later than usual. Gaten has done a lot to promote awareness of CCD, and some of the effects of the condition, including lisping speech and jaw misalignment, this reveals just how important milk teeth really are to our developing bodies.

Read – Why you should store your child’s milk teeth in a stem cell bank