Big Red Tooth – Dr Candice Schwartz

Where teeth and health meet

Baby teeth eruption patterns

Many parents ask me when will their little one will start to lose their baby teeth. A large number of parents I see are under the misconception that the primary dentition (baby teeth) are not important because “they will fall out anyway”. This attitude must be adjusted. The primary teeth are vital for the child’s oral health and normal oral development for a number of reasons.

Firstly the primary teeth are used to chew and eat with. Children only lose the front 8 incisor teeth at the age of 6 years. These are then replaced by the adult upper and lower incisor teeth (front teeth). The back teeth (primary molar teeth) remain in the mouth till the age of 10 – 11 years. So if these teeth decay at an early age and it does pose a problem from a functional perspective.

Secondly the primary teeth act as space maintainers that “guide”the adult teeth into their correct positions. If a primary molar (specifically the second upper/lower primary molar) is lost prematurely, an orthodontic space maintainer is required to keep the open space in tact and prevent the permanent molar tooth from drifting forward into the space. If a space maintainer is not placed timeously, this could create an orthodontic problem later on in the child’s life. If a child loses a baby tooth early as a result of tooth decay or an accident, a permanent tooth may erupt early and potentially come in crooked due to limited space.

Lastly, the health of the primary dentition is a very good indicator for future oral health. If a child’s teeth are taken care of from an early age and they are educated about the importance of keeping their mouths clean and visiting their dentist regularly, they tend to have far fewer dental problems later in life. Children who suffer with many dental cavities from an early age, require extensive dental treatment and this general leaves them loathing the dentist. It is up to the parents to enforce good oral hygiene habits at home and bring them to visit the dentist every 6  months.

What can you expect from your child’s teeth?

By the age of 3 years, your child should have all their primary teeth (20 in total).

Between the ages of 5 – 7 years the upper and lower anterior incisor teeth will fall out and the permanent incisor teeth will grow out.

At approximately 6 years of age, the first permanent molar teeth will grow into the mouth. No teeth will fall out to accommodate the growth of these teeth. This is a good time to visit the dentist and have fissure sealants placed on the molar teeth.

Between the ages of 9 and 11 years, your child will lose their primary molar teeth and these will be replaced by the permanent premolar teeth.

The second permanent molar teeth will grow through the gums at approximately 8 – 9 years old. These should also have a fissure sealant placed on them to prevent dental decay.

By the age of 12- 13 years, all the permanent teeth should have erupted into the mouth and the primary teeth all fallen out.



The ages I have mentioned above are only averages. Timing can vary, though, and girls generally lose baby teeth earlier than do boys. The last baby teeth typically fall out by age 12 or 13. There can be a deviation of up to 2 years when it comes to tooth eruption times. If your child is “late” with their eruption pattern, please do not worry at all. If you are genuinely concerned about a tooth not wanting to grow out, you can see your dentist for a panoramic xray which will show exactly where the teeth are sitting and if they might be missing.

The picture below is a representation of a child skeleton of approximately 5 years old. You will notice the primary teeth present in the mouth. All the adult are present in the maxilla and mandible (jaw bones) of the child, ready and waiting to grow into the mouth.

The formative years are a wonderous time and so much is going on in a small child’s body. It is up to you as the parent, to respect these small miracles and help your child look after their teeth. With proper care, you can help your child’s permanent teeth last a lifetime. There are no second chances after the permanent teeth erupt! (:

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