Losing one's baby teeth is an important milestone in a child's life. Starting as early as age 4, the average child's baby teeth begin giving way to permanent teeth. It's a gradual process that can last throughout your child's early pre-pubescent years and, in some cases, you may become alarmed when a baby tooth fails to drop when it's supposed to. Here's why that can happen and what you can do about it.
When to Expect Baby Tooth Loss
Keep in mind that replacing baby teeth with permanent ones is a gradual process that can start and stop for months or even years at a time. So it's no wonder that many parents have misunderstandings about when tooth loss should occur in a developing child.
Most kids experience their first tooth loss at around age 6, with some children losing their first baby teeth at age 5 or even age 7. According to Dr. Greg Jorgensen, the average child typically loses 8 baby teeth – four upper front teeth and four lower front teeth – by age 8. By age 12 or 13, the average child would have lost all of their baby teeth.
Baby tooth loss usually occurs in sequence, with the upper and lower central incisors being the first to go and the second molars being the last to be replaced.
Playing the Waiting Game
In most cases, it's simply a matter of waiting patiently for a baby tooth to drop out. If you're concerned about one or more of your child's baby teeth hanging around for too long, your orthodontist may advise you to wait several more weeks for the tooth to fall out on its own.
Under ideal conditions, the front teeth will become progressively looser due to the resorption of the tooth root and eventually fall out on their own as the permanent teeth come in. However, there are a couple of instances where a baby tooth refuses to budge.
Dealing with Stubborn Baby Teeth
It's tempting to try to remove your child's loose-yet-stubborn baby tooth on your own, but the event could prove traumatic for your child and their dental health. Instead, you should have your child's orthodontist take a look at the tooth in question. If necessary, the orthodontist may extract the baby tooth in order for the permanent tooth to erupt from the now-unoccupied space.
The British Dental Journal notes that it's possible for a baby tooth to be retained all throughout adulthood, especially if a permanent tooth never erupts to take its place. Additional dental care may be required to ensure this phenomenon doesn't have other effects on your child's dental health later on.
Taking a Bite Out of Shark Teeth
Instead of pushing out the overlapping baby tooth, a permanent tooth can instead grow behind the baby tooth. This results in a double row of teeth, commonly known as "shark" teeth due to the resemblance to the double row of teeth on a shark. Shark teeth can occur at any point as your child loses his or her baby teeth, but it commonly happens when lower front teeth or upper back molar growth occurs.
If the baby tooth hasn't come out on its own yet, you'll have to have it extracted by the orthodontist. Afterwards, the permanent tooth should push its way forward into the old tooth's position as your child's tongue comes into contact with the permanent tooth.
In addition to extracting the stubborn baby tooth in question, the orthodontist may extract adjacent baby teeth to create more space for their permanent counterparts. This new-found space will be protected with a plastic placeholder until the permanent tooth emerges.
For more information, contact an experienced pediatric dentist.