What are Baby Teeth?

Margo Upson

An infant’s first tooth is a major milestone. It heralds the end of pureed mystery food in a jar and the beginning of more adventurous fare—toast squares, fruit chunks, and crackers. The first tooth shows up, in most children, between six and twelve months of age. The next three usually appear soon after. However, it can take as long as eighteen months for the first tooth to pop up.

Baby teeth can be brushed with a piece of gauze wrapped around a finger.
Baby teeth can be brushed with a piece of gauze wrapped around a finger.

Lower teeth usually are the first to erupt, followed by their upper counterparts. Teeth arrive starting in the front, then progress towards the back of the mouth. Baby teeth tend to arrive in groups of four, with a new set coming in every four or five months. In most children, all of their baby teeth are in place by two and a half years of age.

A girl with a baby tooth missing.
A girl with a baby tooth missing.

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Baby teeth, also known as deciduous teeth, milk teeth, or primary teeth, function as spacers for the adult teeth, which are developing under the gums. Made of dentin, a calcified bodily tissue also present in adult teeth, these temporary teeth are just as important as the later permanent teeth. They help children eat and learn to talk. Like permanent teeth, baby teeth require daily care to keep them healthy.

A girl who.
A girl who.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that children visit a dentist by one year of age for a wellness visit. At the latest, all children should make their first dental visit by the time they are three, and all of their temporary teeth are in.

Children start to lose their baby teeth by about age 6.
Children start to lose their baby teeth by about age 6.

Good habits in brushing, flossing, and regular dental visits should be set in place as early as possible. Baby teeth can be brushed with a specially made infants’ tooth brush, or with a piece of gauze wrapped around a finger. When children are old enough to brush for themselves, they can graduate to a kids’ toothbrush. Regular toothpaste shouldn’t be used for children under two because of the fluoride it contains, but there are some infants’ toothpastes now available for little ones.

The leading cause of problems in baby teeth is baby bottle tooth decay. This can happen when sweetened drinks are consumed by a child, usually before bed. The remnant of the liquid remains on the teeth until it is brushed off. If it’s left on for too long, the teeth will begin to decay. The best preventative method for this is to not send a young child to bed with a bottle, or sippy cup, containing milk or juice. Water is a much better alternative for keeping baby teeth healthy and strong.

Baby teeth fall out in approximately the same order they arrived in. The four front teeth are usually the first to go, around age six. From there, the other teeth will gradually loosen and fall out on their own.

A child’s adult teeth will begin to come in a few weeks to a couple months after the corresponding baby tooth is gone. Baby teeth are pushed out of place by the adult teeth pressing on them as they grow and develop. By age twelve, most children have lost all of their baby teeth. Adult teeth will continue to come in until all thirty-two are in place. The last four molars generally erupt by the twenty-first birthday.

A baby before its baby teeth have come in.
A baby before its baby teeth have come in.

Discussion Comments


@ Comparables- As for your other questions, baby teeth can get cavities just like adult teeth so you should brush your baby's teeth and gums regularly. You should also bring your baby to the dentist when their first tooth comes up, or when they start eating solid foods.

To brush her teeth when she is really young, you can use a finger brush made of silicon and just a little water. By the time your baby turns one, you can start using a baby toothbrush and baby toothpaste without fluoride. Fluoride is toxic if swallowed so fluoride free toothpaste should be used until your child can spit the toothpaste in the sink. Besides preventing cavities, brushing your baby's teeth at an early age will help to promote healthy brushing habits when they are older. This can prevent the dreaded trips to the dentist to fill in cavity ridden adult teeth.


@ Comparables- Children being born with baby teeth is not weird at all. I work at a hospital as a baby photographer and I shoot babies with teeth all the time.

I thought it was a little weird at first because I always thought kids didn't start getting their teeth until they were six to nine months old. I asked one of the nurses in the break room though, and she said it was perfectly normal. She said a baby can be born with them, or they may not get their first tooth until they are almost one. She said they usually start coming in around four to six months, but it varies from baby to baby.


My child was born with two baby teeth. Is this weird? Also, Should I start brushing my baby's teeth right away? If so, how do I brush her teeth? Should I use just a little dab of regular toothpaste, or should I use water? When do I bring my daughter to the dentist for the first time? Thanks to any wiseGEEKS out there that can answer my questions!

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