How Children’s Teeth Erupt and Fall Out

Losing baby teeth is a rite of passage for all children.  Many face this with excitement, anxious to experience something their older siblings and friends have shared with them.  Others may be fearful of losing a “body part”.  Understanding how and why baby teeth fall out can help you help explain what is going on to your fearful child.

The Purpose of Baby Teeth

People often wonder why humans have two different sets of teeth.  Animals like dogs and most mammals are diphyodonts, too.  Teeth are necessary for humans to obtain the nutrients we need for growth.  Unfortunately, we grow so slowly that the baby’s mouth is not large enough for permanent teeth at the time when the baby needs to begin chewing.

The solution is two sets of teeth: one that will fit into a small baby’s growing mouth, and the next that will last throughout adulthood.  Baby teeth perform many essential functions, in addition to chewing food and providing important nutrients.  They help guide the growth of the jaws, and they enable a developing child to learn proper speech patterns.

Baby teeth, also called primary or deciduous teeth, hold space in the dental arch for the developing permanent teeth.  This first set of teeth is extremely important.

Why They Fall Out

The design of baby teeth allows for short-term function only.  They consist of short, skinny roots and a very thin coating of enamel, when compared with their permanent counterparts.  As the upper and lower jaws grow, they create room for the larger and stronger permanent teeth.  These (all but the molars) develop underneath the corresponding baby tooth.  Through a complex chronology, they slowly begin making their way into the mouth.  In order for the permanent teeth to come in, the baby teeth must fall out.

How They Fall Out

The underlying permanent tooth will begin a slow progression toward the gums, which causes it to put pressure on the baby tooth’s roots.  This pressure leads to resorption of the baby roots, a process of dissolving and disappearing.  Without root attachment into the underlying bone, the baby teeth become loose.  When there is no longer any root remaining, often the baby tooth attaches to gum tissues only.  When you or your child “pull” the loose baby tooth, you are simply breaking that gum attachment.

This can also happen inadvertently during chewing or an injury that tears the attachment between the loose baby tooth and the surrounding gum tissues.  In an ideal situation, the permanent tooth will be just below the surface when a baby tooth falls out, soon to make its appearance.

When They Don’t Fall Out…

Parents often contact us in concern that their child has not lost a tooth yet.  There are situations in which the baby teeth do not loosen or fall out at the appropriate time.  Here are some possible reasons for that.

  1. Delayed Eruption

Often, children simply are “late bloomers”.  If they did not get baby teeth until they were closer to one year of age, their permanent teeth will also be likely to be “late”.  On average, children should lose their first tooth around age six years.  However, we see some as young as five and others as old as seven and a half.

If there is true concern about the underlying permanent teeth, we will take dental x-rays to investigate what is causing the delay.

  1. Prior Trauma

In some cases, when a tooth receives a blunt injury, it can result in a situation known as ankylosis.  This means that the tooth becomes fused to the surrounding jawbone, and it is unlikely to fall out on its own.  This is rare, but it can cause a baby tooth to not fall out.

  1. Ectopic Eruption

The term ectopic means outside of its normal place.  So a permanent tooth with ectopic eruption is not coming into the mouth in the correct location.  Typically, it will be offset toward the lip or the tongue side of the jawbone.  When it is not directly underneath the baby tooth, it will not cause the resorption of the baby roots.  The baby tooth may remain in place even while the permanent tooth begins pushing through the gums.

Sometimes, dental intervention is required by extracting the baby tooth and using orthodontics to reposition the permanent tooth.

More Questions about Baby Teeth?

Call Timberlake Dental at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He can answer any question you have about baby teeth and assess your child’s current situation.

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