It might not seem too long ago that your child was getting their first teeth, and now their next set are ready to come through. The difference is that older children are more aware of what's happening, and having to lose their teeth in the first place can be an upsetting experience for some.
Read this guide for a rough timeline of when permanent teeth erupt, how to help your child deal with tooth loss and when to see a children's dentist.
Why do baby teeth fall out?
Primary teeth (baby teeth or deciduous teeth) serve vital roles in helping babies and young children to eat and develop speech. These teeth are also important for maintaining space in their growing jaws for their permanent replacements.
As your child continues to grow, they need something sturdier. Their secondary teeth (permanent teeth or adult teeth) are larger and stronger, helping them to eat a wider range of foods and providing more support for their jaws and faces.
Children's permanent teeth have already started to develop inside their jaws when they're born and they continue to grow until they're ready to come through, usually from the age of around 6 to 12. When this happens, the roots of baby teeth break down and the tooth becomes loose, eventually falling out in time for its replacement to come through.
Tooth loss timeline
The replacement of baby teeth with adult teeth is a long process that lasts around 6 years (not counting wisdom teeth). This generally happens from ages 6 to 12, but just like the eruption of primary teeth, this can vary for each child – often by up to 2 years in either direction.
Girls tend to lose teeth earlier than boys. If your child developed their baby teeth early or late, the same will usually apply for their permanent teeth. The order of tooth loss and replacement is usually the same as for baby teeth:
- Central incisors – 6 to 8 years
- Lateral incisors – 7 to 8 years
- First molars – 9 to 11 years
- Canines – 9 to 12 years
- Second molars – 10 to 12 years
The replacements for baby molars are known as premolars in adult teeth. Adult molars erupt further back in the jaw and do not replace baby teeth:
- Adult first molars – 6 to 7 years
- Adult second molars – 11 to 13 years
- Third molars (wisdom teeth) – 17 to 21 years
By their teenage years, kids will normally have 28 teeth. These may be followed by up to 4 wisdom teeth later, but not everyone develops wisdom teeth.
This is only a general guide that can differ for each child. Your child's dentist will monitor the development of their teeth during their regular check-ups, but you should make an appointment if you have any concerns.
Central incisors (age 6 to 8)
Children normally grow their first adult molars around the age of 6, before they start to lose their baby teeth. The first teeth to be lost are usually the lower central incisors, which were also usually the first baby teeth to erupt. After these come the upper central incisors, which are much larger in their adult replacements.
Lateral incisors (age 7 to 8)
After the four middle teeth have been replaced, the next set to be lost is generally the lateral incisors on each side. The upper lateral incisors are usually the first to loosen and be replaced.
First molars (age 9 to 11)
Children tend to lose their first molars next. The replacement molars are smaller than adult molars and are known as premolars. Their eruption is usually less painful than other molars.
Canines (age 9 to 12)
The canine (or cuspid) teeth between the molars and incisors are usually replaced next. These are slightly rounder than primary canines.
Second molars (age 10 to 12)
The final teeth your child will shed are usually their second molars. Like the first molars, these are replaced with premolars that sit beside their larger adult molars.
Adult molars and wisdom teeth (age 6 to 21)
Older children and teenagers have wider jaws that can accommodate more teeth than young children. The first adult molar usually appears before the loss of baby teeth, around the age of 6 to 7, while the second molar appears around the end of the process, around 11 to 13.
Wisdom teeth erupt considerably later, usually in the late teens to early 20s. Not everyone develops wisdom teeth, and these teeth can sometimes cause problems if they are trapped inside the gum (impacted) or cause crowding. In these cases, your dentist will likely recommend wisdom teeth removal.
Does it hurt to lose a tooth?
A loose or wobbly tooth may feel sore, but shouldn't be too painful. Children should be discouraged from pulling on a tooth that's not ready to come out, as this can cause pain if it's still attached to the nerve endings.
The gum may also feel sore when the new tooth pokes through, but this is generally less severe than teething pain for babies.
You can help your child to relieve their pain by:
- applying over-the counter pain relief gel
- getting them to rinse their mouth with a salt water solution (making sure they don't swallow)
- providing a cold compress or ice pack for them to hold against their cheek
- talk to your doctor if you need advice on other appropriate pain relief for children
Helping children to cope with losing teeth
Besides the discomfort, children may feel distressed to lose their teeth. You can comfort them by explaining what will happen ahead of time, making sure they know that a new tooth will replace it shortly.
If you think your child would respond to the idea of the tooth fairy, this is a way to make losing teeth into a positive experience!
What happens if a child loses a tooth early?
Children may start to lose their baby teeth as early as age 4. This usually isn't a problem, but you should still make an appointment with their dentist to check that the new tooth is ready to come through.
If a child loses a tooth prematurely due to tooth decay, an injury or for other reasons, this is a dental emergency. You should contact your dental clinic for advice and to see if you can arrange a same day appointment.
Unlike a permanent tooth, a healthy baby tooth should not be placed back in the socket, as this may damage the tooth growing underneath. Instead, your child's dentist may recommend a treatment such as space maintainers to keep the space open for the future tooth and prevent the surrounding teeth from leaning into the gap.
Helping your child to care for their teeth
By the time kids start losing their teeth, they may be ready to take care of their oral hygiene by themselves, but they can still benefit from your support or supervision.
Brushing and flossing
By the age of 6, children should be brushing with full-fluoride toothpaste, making sure they know to spit it out to avoid the possibility of fluorosis.
Encourage your kids to brush twice a day, for two minutes each time. Brushing together as a family will help to make sure they don't cut corners. You can also use a toothbrushing timer app.
If your child finds it difficult to use a standard toothbrush, their dentist may recommend switching to an electric toothbrush, as some kids find these easier to use or more appealing.
Replace their toothbrush or electric toothbrush head every 3 months or after a sickness.
As well as brushing, kids should also floss between their teeth once a day. If they find floss uncomfortable, their dentist may recommend an alternative such as a floss threader or interdental brush.
Sugar is the major cause of tooth decay. Avoid giving your kids too many sugary snacks and sugar-filled drinks such as soft drinks, fruit juices and energy drinks, and ask your dentist about healthy sugar swaps.
Encouraging your child to eat a healthy, balanced diet will benefit their oral health and overall health. Foods that are high in calcium can help to strengthen and protect their growing teeth enamel.
Kids should drink water as their main drink, which helps them to stay hydrated as well as rinsing their mouth and lowering their risk of dental problems.
Regular dental visits
Keeping up with twice-yearly dental check-ups helps your child's dentist to catch and treat minor problems before they develop into something more serious. During these visits, their teeth can also be professionally cleaned and scaled to remove plaque and calculus build-up.
Your child's dentist may also recommend preventive treatments to help lower their risk of dental problems and accidents. These can include fissure sealants placed in molars to help prevent decay and custom mouthguards to help protect their teeth during sports.
Talk to our family dentists on the Gold Coast
If you need more advice about your children's teeth, or you want to book a family appointment at our Gold Coast dental clinic, contact our team at Robina Town Dental today. Call 07 5575 9100 or send us a message and we'll get back to you.
We welcome patients from all nearby areas including Burleigh Heads, Mudgeeraba, Miami, Varsity Lakes, Burleigh Waters, Merrimac, Mermaid Waters, Worongary and Clear Island Waters.
Better Health Channel. Teeth development in children [Online] 2021 [Accessed November 2022] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/teeth-development-in-children
Healthline. When Do Baby Teeth Fall Out and Adult Teeth Come In? [Online] 2020 [Accessed November 2022] Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/childrens-health/baby-teeth-fall-out