Teething is a trying time for both parents and kids alike, but by age 3, most children have all 20 of their primary teeth. However, you only have about three years or so without much tooth-related drama. Those teeth that may have caused your child so much pain and suffering as they were coming in -- and so much stress for you -- are called "baby teeth" for a reason.
Around the age of 6, they start to fall out to make way for permanent adult teeth. Sometimes kids lose baby teeth too early due to decay or some other reason, but this can lead to the permanent tooth coming in too soon and cause spacing issues later on (so keep brushing and flossing). Baby teeth usually fall out in the order that they come in, so the bottom two teeth will be the first to go, followed by the top two. There's not much rhyme or reason to the timing, but they should all be gone by age 13.
Some kids get excited about losing teeth, especially if you're going the tooth fairy route and they've heard from other kids about finding money under their pillows. Others might be afraid that losing a tooth will hurt or that there will be blood. Losing baby teeth is a far less painful process than getting them in, but it can still be a challenge -- especially if a loose tooth seems to be hanging on forever. It's best to let the tooth come out on its own because baby teeth usually come out right before the permanent tooth is ready to come in. That's the theory, anyway, but it can be difficult to follow in practice.
Find out next how to remove that loose tooth with a minimum of pain and effort.
Pulling the Tooth
Many dentists will advise you to leave loose teeth alone for a couple of reasons (besides the potential for pain). If you pull the tooth instead of letting it come out on its own, there's a greater chance that the gums will bleed. There's also an increased risk of infection, some dentists say. Of course, parents have been pulling their children's loose teeth practically forever, so dentists realize that you're probably going to do it anyway -- especially if your kid is freaked out by a dangling tooth or afraid that he might swallow it. There is a right way and a wrong way to go about it, though. Forget what you may have seen on television; running a string from the tooth to a doorknob and slamming the door is decidedly not a painless way to remove a loose tooth!
Encourage your child to do lots of wiggling of the tooth, with either his finger or tongue. You may not need to do any pulling at all. If this doesn't work, only consider more drastic measures if the tooth is literally flopping around in the socket or hanging on by a tiny thread. Otherwise, all of your pulling and tugging will hurt and probably lead to bleeding. If he's up for it, try to get your child to pull his own tooth. Only he can tell exactly how loose it is -- and when the pulling becomes painful. To keep a firm grip on the tooth, use a piece of gauze or tissue, then grasp the tooth and twist it out. You could also let food do the work for you -- have your child bite into an apple (you may find the tooth embedded in it soon afterward) or bite into an ice pop, which can also help to numb any pain.
You may want to check with your dentist to get his take on pulling teeth at home. Sometimes permanent teeth will come in behind baby teeth, creating a double row called "shark's teeth." Occasionally, baby teeth refuse to come out at all and need to be pulled in the dentist's office, although this is rare.
Whether you pull them or not, all of those baby teeth will soon be gone, and your child will have a mouthful of permanent teeth -- and be through yet another rite of passage.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. "When children begin to lose their baby teeth." Healthy Children. June 2, 2011. (Oct. 11, 2011) http://www.healthychildren.org/english/healthy-living/oral-health/Pages/When-Children-Begin-to-Lose-their-Baby-Teeth
- Baby Center. "Losing baby teeth: what to expect and when." Baby Center. 2011. (Oct. 12, 2011) http://www.babycenter.com/0_losing-baby-teeth-what-to-expect-and-when_3658971.bc
- Carr, Alan. "Baby teeth: when do children start losing them?" Mayo Clinic. April 16, 2011. (Oct. 11, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/baby-teeth/AN00355
- Casamassio, Paul. "Should I pull out a very loose tooth?" Baby Center. 2011. (Oct. 11, 2011) http://www.babycenter.com/404_should-i-pull-out-a-very-loose-tooth_70631.bc
- Chicago Dental Society. "What to do if your child has a loose baby tooth." Dentistry.com. 2011. (Oct. 11, 2011) http://www.dentistry.com/daily-dental-care/pediatric-dentistry/what-to-do-if-your-child-has-a-loose-baby-tooth
- Schulman, Cindy. "Losing Baby Teeth." Parents Magazine. December 2001. (Oct. 10, 2011) http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/health/teething/losing-baby-teeth/