Chances are your other has a baby book or other memorabilia that highlights the date your first tooth erupted as a baby, as well as the day you lost your first baby tooth and had a visit from the tooth fairy. But have you ever wondered why exactly you have two sets of teeth? Do baby teeth really play an important role in oral health and the development of your smile? The truth is, both your milk teeth, or baby teeth, and your permanent teeth, or adult teeth, each have a specific role in your development, and each is important in its own way.
Here we take a closer look at the roles these teeth play and how they are really different.
- As a child, you will have around 20 milk teeth, with the first eruption happening around the age of six months.
- Milk teeth usually start falling out around six years of age as the permanent teeth begin pushing them out of the way. An adult mouth typically has 32 permanent teeth. The types of teeth include four incisors, two cuspids (canine teeth), four bicuspids (premolars), four molars (first molars and second molars), and two wisdom teeth (third molars) on both the upper and lower jaw.
- Even though baby teeth are only around for a few years, developing good oral hygiene during these early years is essential to maintaining a healthy oral routine for a lifetime.
Milk Teeth vs. Permanent teeth
We know we have two sets of teeth. However, are they really different? What are the differences between milk and permanent teeth, and what do those differences mean as we grow?
Milk teeth, also called baby teeth, primary teeth, or deciduous teeth, begin developing at around five weeks gestation, and at birth, a baby has a full set of milk teeth hidden under the gums. However, they do not begin breaking through the gums until around six to 12 months of age. In most cases, children will have a complete first set of teeth consisting of 20 milk teeth by the time they are three years old. These first teeth help to set the foundation of growth. Their smaller size is made to match the size of a smaller, growing jaw while still helping to create a foundation for adult teeth.
Milk teeth help children in many ways including:
- Learning how to bite and chew properly
- Helping with speech development
- Creating and holding space for the larger adult teeth
- Helping to establish correct tooth alignment
- Help to develop a good oral hygiene routine
In addition to being smaller in size, baby teeth are also softer, with a thinner enamel layer than adult teeth, making them more susceptible to decay. Because baby teeth typically begin falling out around the age of six, many often believe that good oral care may be less important since these teeth will soon fall out. The truth is good oral care is essential to keep these teeth healthy and allow them to perform the jobs they were intended for.
Adult teeth, or permanent teeth, begin development at birth and slowly grow throughout early childhood into the larger and stronger teeth that eventually push out your milk teeth. They are considered your second set of teeth. They begin coming through around age six when the jaw is large enough to support these bigger teeth. Permanent teeth are larger, stronger, and less white than milk teeth, but this is normal. Unlike milk teeth with a thin layer of enamel, permanent teeth have a much thicker layer of enamel, designed to help provide a stronger layer of protection for many years.
While you only have an average of 20 milk teeth, 10 on the top and 10 on the bottom, you will have a total of 32 permanent teeth, which include four incisors (two central incisors and two lateral incisors), which create your front teeth, two cuspids (canines), four bicuspids (premolars), four molars, and two wisdom teeth on both the upper and lower jaw.
Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the last permanent teeth to erupt in the adult mouth, typically in the late teens to early twenties. While they are considered permanent teeth and a part of the 32 adult teeth, it is not uncommon for wisdom teeth to cause overcrowding and shifting of the other teeth if they have enough room to break through. Many are unable to break through and are considered impacted. This inability to completely break through the gums may increase the risk of dental decay. In many cases, wisdom teeth removal is often necessary, meaning many adults only have 28 permanent adult teeth.
Why do we have two sets of teeth?
Both milk and permanent teeth play important roles in your development and your lifelong oral health. If you think about it, one set of teeth that erupt during infancy won’t work well as an adult. If you think about your baby teeth compared to your adult teeth, the major difference you will likely see is the size. What do you think chewing would be like as an adult if all your adult teeth were the same size as your baby teeth? Milk teeth are designed to be smaller in order to fit the small size of a child’s jaw as it grows. But that is only the beginning when it comes to the differences between milk teeth and permanent teeth.
Dental care for milk teeth and permanent teeth
Dental care begins before the first tooth even erupts. Gentle cleaning of the gums with a soft, clean cloth after feedings is a great way to keep the gums healthy and establish a good oral hygiene routine. Taking care of milk and permanent teeth are slightly different, but both play an important role in your oral health.
How to take care of baby teeth
When teeth first start coming in as a baby, brushing twice a day with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and plain water is enough to clean the teeth and help reduce the risk of dental decay. Before a child’s first birthday, it is important to schedule their first dental appointment. This allows the dentist to detect any early signs of potential concerns and apply a fluoride varnish to the surface of the teeth, providing them with an extra layer of protection and helping to keep your child’s teeth strong and healthy. At this time, you can talk to them about the best time to add the use of fluoride toothpaste to your brushing routine.
Milk teeth should be brushed twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. When your child is able to handle the toothbrush, teach them how to brush their teeth, but always monitor tooth brushing to ensure they are reaching all the teeth and surface area. Ensure that they use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and spit it out after brushing rather than swallowing it.
Don’t forget to floss the baby’s teeth as well, as this is often the best way to keep the surfaces between teeth clean. Using a floss pick is often easier for children to master, and learning early can lead to lifelong habit.
In addition to establishing a good oral hygiene routine at home, you want to make sure you see your dentist at least one to two times a year. Regular visits, including dental cleanings, allow the dentist to detect any early signs of dental decay and address any possible concerns.
How to take care of permanent teeth
Once permanent teeth begin breaking through, you should already have an established oral hygiene routine. Teeth should be brushed at least twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Don’t forget to floss at least once a day and attend regular dental visits in order to maintain the best oral health possible.
Having a healthy smile at every stage of life
Whether you are a child with milk teeth or have long said goodbye to the tooth fairy and have a full mouth of permanent teeth, establishing a good oral hygiene routine is essential to maintain good oral health and keeping your teeth strong for your lifetime.
Promoting quality oral care
At New Leaf Rohnert Park, our team of caring professionals understands the importance of a healthy, beautiful smile from the early days of childhood into your senior years. Our goal is to help you develop an optimal oral hygiene routine, address any potential concerns, and keep your teeth strong and healthy for your lifetime. To book an appointment, visit us online and let us help you maintain healthy teeth and reduce the risk of tooth decay.