Teeth – facts and how they grow

Teeth begin to grow in babies even before they leave the womb. The first signs of primary teeth – also known as milk teeth or deciduous teeth – appear at about five weeks’ gestation.

As babies grow, they go through a process known as teething, whereby the teeth break through the gumline and grow into a useable set.

There is no set time when babies should definitively start to teethe; one child may start at three months, but another may not start until 12 months or later.

A child will have his or her first set of teeth up until around about the age of six, at which point the primary teeth begin to shed and the first permanent teeth start to break through.

There are four types of teeth:

Incisors – these are the teeth located at the front in both the upper and lower jaws. They have a thin cutting edge and work similarly to scissors to chop food.

Canines – sometimes known as ‘vampire teeth’, these sit on both sides of the incisors in the upper and lower jaw. Used to tear food.

Premolars – these are used for crushing food, and have flat surfaces.

Molars – these are even bigger than premolars, and are used to grind and crush food.

Tooth loss process

The ‘milk teeth’ begin to shed in most children between six and seven years of age. This can sometimes be a painful and irritating experience for kids, but it is also usually mixed with excitement.

The incisors are normally the first to go, leaving a gap at the front of the tooth set. The other teeth – 20 in total – will drop out over the following months.

The teeth will always become wobbly before dropping out. It is important not to force the tooth out before it is ready to drop, because it can tear at the gums and cause pain.

Growth of permanent teeth

At the same time as a child loses his or hear primary teeth, a new set of ‘adult teeth’ will be pushing through to take their place.

Four molars behind the original set of 20 teeth will be the biggest noticeable change. The other new teeth will simply break through in the areas of gum left vacant by the departing primary teeth.

If you or your child needs advice on the teething process, the replacement of ‘milk teeth’ with permanent teeth, or any other tooth-related problems it is best to contact your dentist for thorough advice.

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