At my daughter Avery's most recent dental appointment, I was surprised when the hygienist told me that two of her bottom teeth were getting loose. She had only turned four a few months earlier. Wasn’t this way too soon to be losing her baby teeth?
But the dentist assured me that, while it was on the early side, there was no indication of a problem, especially because we were dealing with the two front bottom teeth, which are typically the first to go. I nodded my head but raced home to consult Dr. Google for more information. My search brought up tons of similar concerns from other semi-hysterical moms, but plenty of reassuring web results, too.
Paediatric dentist Clive Friedman, of London, Ont., agrees with Dr. Google—mostly. He says that kids usually start losing teeth anytime from five to seven years old, but having wiggly teeth as young as age four is still considered normal.
“If a child loses a tooth early, my first question is whether she’s had any trauma, such as a fall, that you’ve not been aware of. That’s the most common reason a tooth might fall out a little earlier than the norm,” Friedman says. “But if it’s one of the front bottom teeth, and there are no signs of decay or trauma, there’s no great reason to be concerned.”
Children with certain special needscan follow different patterns; children with Down syndrome, for example, usually lose baby teeth later. Also interesting to note, says Friedman, is that girls tend to get—and lose—their baby teeth earlier than boys. Why? “We don’t know,” says Friedman. “Generally speaking, girls develop a little faster than boys.”
Baby teeth—also known as primary teeth—loosen when an adult tooth moves up in the jaw, eventually causing the baby tooth to fall out. “Your primary-tooth root acts like a guiding light for a permanent tooth to come in,” Friedman explains. “The permanent tooth resorbs (or eats away) the root of the baby tooth.” After the two bottom front teeth go, the two top front teeth (the central incisors) follow, then the next two on either side of the bottom jaw, and finally, the two on the top (the lateral incisors). It’s usually only these first eight teeth that fall out by age seven or eight. At the same time, the six-year molars will grow into the empty space at the back of the jaw, which may cause some minor irritation for your child. (Yup, teething all over again!) The rest of your child’s teeth, from the cuspids to those primary molars, don’t fall out until ages 10 to 12.
I’d read online that kids whose teeth erupt on the early side of babyhood are more likely to lose them early, and that if parents lost their teeth early, their children are likely to follow suit. While a genetic component sounded logical to me (my older daughter lost her first tooth at five), Friedman says there is no good statistical evidence to support this.
If your child hasn’t lost her first tooth by age seven, you may want to get some X-rays done. Extra teeth in the bone, says Friedman, could prevent the permanent teeth from pushing out the baby teeth.
Friedman doesn’t recommend yanking any loose teeth. (No tying-a-string-to-a-doorknob tricks, please.) “Just let nature take its course,” he says. It shouldn’t take much effort, and there should be very little bleeding. Focus on making sure your child is brushing well at the gum line; often the tooth will come out easily during regular teeth brushing.
Avery wasn’t the least bit anxious about her loose teeth. In fact, she couldn’t have been more excited. She wiggled them for everyone who would look, and dreamt of what the Tooth Fairy would bring. I was the one who was a bit emotional. Maybe it’s silly, but something about my baby girl losing her baby teeth felt like the end of an era, a premature lunge into “big girl” territory. So as she wiggled away, I took lots of pictures, savouring her sweet smile with those little Chiclets, and prepared for the next stage of life.
A version of this article appeared in our May 2013 issue with the headline "Bye-bye, baby teeth," p. 66.