Child with baby teeth

What baby teeth can (and can’t) tell you about your child’s smile

August 22nd is National Tooth Fairy Day! It’s an opportunity to speak with your child about the importance of oral hygiene, how they can take responsibility for the health of their teeth, and what to expect in terms of losing baby teeth and getting permanent adult teeth. (You can find fun printables and things to do to celebrate National Tooth Fairy Day at Mouth Healthy, which is run by the American Dental Association.)

The very first tooth appears around 6 months of age but it’s not until around 3 years old that a child has their full set of 20 baby teeth. Then these teeth fall out one by one between the ages of 6-12, on average, as the full set of 32 permanent adult teeth come in. Parents may be anxious as their child’s teeth come in, wondering if they’ll eventually need braces. But what exactly can you tell about your child’s smile from their baby teeth?

What the Position of Baby Teeth Tells You

Baby teeth serve as something of a guiding track for the permanent teeth that are coming in behind them. Still, where permanent teeth will erupt is determined more by the jaw than by the position of the baby teeth. This is why it’s so important to take care of any jaw issues early on, while the jaw is still moldable and can be corrected more easily. You can usually tell if your child has jaw issues by looking. An underbite, overbite, or crossbite is a clear sign there are jaw issues to address. 

What the Spacing of Baby Teeth Tells You

Though some parents may be concerned to see their child’s gappy smile, with space in between each tooth, the truth is that this is usually a good thing. When teeth are spaced out a little, this gives permanent teeth room to grow in. If there’s little or no space between the baby teeth, this could be a sign that there may be crowding when the permanent teeth grow in.

What the Timing of Losing Baby Teeth Tells You

Sometimes a baby tooth takes longer than normal to fall out, which can prevent the permanent tooth from erupting correctly. This can cause the permanent tooth to erupt in a “shark-tooth” position. On the other hand, if a tooth falls out too early, it can alter the position of the permanent tooth, which may come out at an angle.

Getting a Professional Opinion

As you can see, you can tell a fair amount about your child’s smile from the position, spacing, and timing of his or her baby teeth. But there’s still a lot going on beneath the surface that you can’t see. Whether or not you think there’s a problem, it’s smart to take your child for a visit to the orthodontist when they’re young. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends an initial visit no later than the age of seven. This is not because every child needs orthodontic treatment, but because some children can benefit greatly from treatment that happens sooner rather than later. Many orthodontic practices – including ours – offer a free initial consultation, so go ahead and make that first appointment!