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Tooth Development: The Stages of Your Child’s Smile

Smiling Children

We know you want to be informed in every area of your child’s growth, and the development of their teeth is no exception! From baby teeth eruption to wisdom teeth removal and beyond, understanding a little about the stages your child will go through and what to expect will help you identify what’s normal and what may be an issue to talk to the dentist about.


Primary Teeth

Primary or baby teeth begin to peek through several months after birth, and eventually reach a complete set of 20 by age three. Children will begin shedding their primary teeth to make way for permanent teeth as early as age six. Shedding usually begins with the front bottom teeth and ends with the molars and canines.

Primary teeth are so important because they act as the foundation for a great smile! Here are a few more of the awesome jobs of primary teeth:

  • Prepare your child for a great smile. The main job of primary teeth is to hold the right amount of space in the mouth until permanent teeth erupt.
  • Make eating and chewing a whole lot easier. Healthy primary teeth ensure children can eat nourishing food and maintain a weight range that keeps their other developmental milestones on track.
  • Reinforce correct speech production and development. Primary teeth are the MVP’s for correct syllable pronunciation and keeping the tongue from straying during speech!


Because primary teeth are the first steps to a perfect future smile, you should help your child prevent cavities, infection and decay. Before your baby’s teeth even come in, it’s important to clean his gums with a gauze soaked in water or wet washcloth. Once teeth start appearing, use a small amount of toothpaste on a baby toothbrush to very gently brush the teeth twice a day. Taking good care of primary teeth will prevent them from coming loose too early and will leave room for healthy teeth in the future!

If primary teeth do fall out early and unexpectedly, consult our office to get a space maintainer that will make sure your baby’s mouth has enough room for permanent teeth.


Permanent Teeth

Permanent teeth start to appear around age six, beginning with the molars in the back of the mouth. These first molars greatly impact the positions of future teeth, along with the shape of your child’s face and jaw. By age fourteen, your child should have 28 permanent teeth and four wisdom teeth.


Wisdom Teeth

Usually in their late teens and early twenties, large molars in the back of your child’s mouth will erupt. These molars, or wisdom teeth, may become impacted due to angle of entry or lack of space. Impacted wisdom teeth often tilt forward toward the front of the mouth, a condition that’s known as “mesial.”

Impacted wisdom teeth may need to be removed. If left in place, your child may experience an array of problems, from swelling and tenderness to tooth decay and gum disease.

When the time comes, your dentist at Behind the Smile will take a panoramic X-ray to determine if your child’s wisdom teeth need to be removed. If removal is advised, you will then be referred to an oral surgeon.

Wisdom teeth extraction surgery should be scheduled promptly once deemed necessary. Ignoring the problem will lead to major problems for your child’s dental health. The most common time for wisdom teeth removal is during the late teens and early twenties because teeth roots are not yet fully formed and the bones in the mouth are less dense.

After surgery, there are lots of things you can (and should!) do to take care of your child. Depending on the difficulty of the extraction, the healing process will differ, but here are a few things to expect:

  • Bleeding – Remember to change the gauze pad often and make sure it’s applying enough pressure to encourage the bleeding to stop.
  • Swelling – Use ice packs to reduce swelling. Don’t be surprised if swelling lasts for several days – this is totally normal!
  • Diet – Liquids are best for the first hours after surgery. After that, only soft foods should be eaten until the mouth is fully healed.
  • Cleaning – Brush teeth very gently after surgery, and make sure to rinse the mouth with warm water five to six times a day.


Taking care of your child’s teeth at every age is as simple as following proper oral hygiene, monitoring their development, and ensuring they get to the dentist at least twice per year. Your child should begin going to the dentist after their first birthday or after the first tooth emerges, whichever comes first. And always remember that Behind the Smile Dentistry for Children is here for you every step along the way!