Dos & Don’t of Caring for Your Kid’s Teeth (Including the Loose Ones)
Bye-bye baby teeth!
Your growing kid might not hit each milestone at the same rapid pace as they did when they were a baby or toddler. But that doesn't mean those moments are any less precious. The swell of pride you may have felt when you got them to use the potty successfully, try (and actually like) a new food, or calmly part ways without a separation anxiety meltdown, are just as grand achievements. And when the first of their baby teeth starts wiggling loose, you can proudly add that to the list too.
Saying bye-bye to baby teeth can be bittersweet. On the one hand, your little one may be one step closer to becoming a “big kid”—and even be kind of freaked out by their first loose tooth. On the other, it can be heartwarming to see your child growing up—even though your baby isn’t (gasp!) a baby anymore!
While proper dental hygiene should be in play for good—from the time their very first little chomper breaks through their gum line—proper baby teeth care is of the utmost importance to ensure they have healthy pearly whites for the rest of their life. To help you and your kid along the way, we’ve put together this guide answering common questions, like what are milk teeth, when do baby teeth fall out, and how many baby teeth do you lose? Plus, we’ve even created a baby teeth loss chart and "how to" for brushing their teeth—and even have some intel to share on how to find out the Tooth Fairy’s going rate these days.
What Are Milk Teeth?
Sometimes it seems as though parenting a young child should come with its own glossary. Case in point: The term “milk teeth”may not have been immediately familiar to you. However, it’s just another term for baby teeth (also known as deciduous teeth), named so due to their appearance usually coinciding with weaning your child from milk onto solid food (around 6 months old, but keep in mind that it could take until your baby’s first birthday or beyond for their teeth to start coming in).
Whatever you prefer to call them, what matters most is taking care of them from the get-go. Aside from general aesthetics, baby teeth play a vital role in your kid learning to properly chew and develop speech. They’re also crucial for making room for permanent teeth by serving as placeholders for your kid’s developing larger teeth until they’re ready to take the oral stage.
When Do Baby Teeth Fall Out?
From birth, we typically already have all 20 baby teeth—albeit, under the gum line—which emerge at around 6 months old, then fall out throughout various times during childhood. This process allows permanent teeth to come in. By our late teens or early 20s, most adults have all 32 of their teeth (including wisdom teeth, or third molars).
As your young child’s permanent teeth grow, they erode the roots of their baby teeth, causing them to eventually be reabsorbed by their body. This erosion loosens their teeth, making it easier for them to fall out and be replaced by permanent ones. Typically, the first ones to go are the first ones that came in—the top and bottom middle teeth in front—around 6 or 7 years old, then the adjacent teeth on either side over the next couple of years. The remaining teeth tend to follow suit, from the ones in front to around back, until the molars are loosened and lost between about 10 and 12 years old. Generally, most kids will have all of their permanent teeth (minus those late-blooming wisdom teeth) by the time they enter their teen years at age 13.
Kids’ Teeth Care Dos & Don’ts
When it comes to the first rule of taking care of your kid’s dental hygiene, consider treating their baby teeth with the same level of importance as you would their eventual permanent teeth. Tooth decay—even in tiny chompers—is the most common chronic disease affecting children. Improper dental care is also largely the reason why 40% of little tykes have some sort of tooth decay by the time they enter kindergarten—which can increase their likelihood of missing school and, therefore, getting poorer grades. And, even more concerning, the inflammation that can be caused by poor dental and periodontal health is also linked to worsening health problems later in life, like heart disease and diabetes.
To ensure proper baby teeth care and help set your kid up for good dental hygiene habits for years to come, follow the below dos and don’ts of kids’ teeth care.
Do take them to the dentist early and often, starting from the time their first tooth comes in. Once they’re a year-old, the American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend taking them every six months for regular preventative care like checkups and cleanings. Admittedly, many adults don’t even like going to the dentist, so try planning something fun—like a trip to one of their favorite places afterwards—as a helpful incentive.
Don’t shower them with sweets—too much of them can be detrimental to their teeth, and can also result in serious, potentially lifelong health consequences like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Chewy, sugary snacks are especially bad for their teeth, as remnants of them are more difficult to remove during regular brushing. Similarly, avoid letting them nurse sugary drinks in sippy cups or bottles, even if they’re healthy beverages, like 100% natural juice and milk, which both are known to bathe kids’ teeth in sugar.
Don’t forget to supervise your kid the entire time they brush until they’re a bit older and get the hang of it. Of course, the goal in anything we teach them is ultimately independence but, for the goodness of their health, stick around to be sure they’re brushing all of their teeth. Many young kids, even with the best of intentions, don’t hit every tooth when they brush. So, stay involved, do it yourself, or keep an eye on them during the whole process until they’re in the habit. With persistence and practice, by around 6 to 8 years old, they should be able to handle it on their own.
Do try to assuage any loose tooth concerns your child may have by explaining why and how their baby teeth are replaced by permanent “adult” ones. It’s common for kids to be wary about losing teeth, worrying they’ll interfere with eating or cause pain. Try to get them involved in their own dental care—loose teeth and not—and excited about what a big kid they’re becoming. It can be a great bonding experience for you both too—not to mention excellent fodder for toothless kiddie pics.
Do try to let a loose tooth fall out in its own time, even if you and your kid have to help gently wiggle it along (with clean hands!) to help it along the way. This approach is the best way to limit any discomfort, bleeding, or risk of infection.
Don’t try to forcefully remove a loose tooth that’s not ready to come out. That can cause the permanent tooth beneath it to come in crooked. Around 30% of children’s orthodontic interventions (like braces) are due to a premature loss of baby teeth, which may be due to unnecessary pulling, decay, or getting accidentally knocked out. However, if your child has a particularly stubborn tooth that’s not loosening enough to fall out over time, Do contact your pediatric dentist, who may recommend professionally extracting it.
Don’t assume that pain is part of the natural tooth loss process. Mild discomfort or tenderness is normal, and can be treated with a cold pack or over-the-counter kids’ pain medication. But a loose tooth shouldn’t be painful—if it is, that could be a sign of a more serious issue or even an infection. So, if you suspect their tooth is causing them undue pain, definitely Do contact their dentist.
Do introduce them to the Tooth Fairy. Not only does a little dough serve as a reward that they can save up and use to buy some of their favorite things (hopefully not too many treats), but you can use the gifts of the generous sprite as an opportunity to teach your kid money management lessons and skills. (A quick Google search will bring up countless apps that calculate the Tooth Fairy’s going rate near you.)
What Are the 5 Steps to Brushing Your Kid’s Teeth?
First, the basics: the right brush and toothpaste. When they’re still super young, you can use a silicone baby brush that fits on your finger. Then, once they’re 1 or 2 years old, move on to a soft child-sized brush. Use a fluoride-free kids’ toothpaste (so it’s safe if they swallow it) until they’re old enough to spit it out. Once they’re a bit older, transition to a toothpaste with fluoride to help strengthen your child’s teeth and prevent cavities. And, by the time they’re between 6 and 8 years old, you can help them celebrate their graduation to a larger toothbrush. (Just be sure to toss whatever brush they’re using when the bristles start to look worn, or about every three to six months.) Once you have the right supplies, follow these five simple steps.
Step 1. Start small: Teach your kid to brush a small amount of toothpaste—about the size fo a grain of rice—gently over every tooth, their gums, and tongue. Their dentist can also help you show them the right way to go about it.
Step 2. Make brushing a fun part of the day: Believe or not, this is actually achievable—it’s all about engagement and entertainment. It can be easy for kids to get bored, especially the younger they are and the more mundane the task. First and foremost, get your kid engaged in the toothbrushing process.
You can do this by reading books or watching videos about kids brushing their teeth to help make the activity less of a chore.
Step 3. Involve their unique preferences: Have your little one choose their very own toothbrush—maybe even with a favorite character on it—as well as the flavor of their kids’ toothpaste.
Step 4. Set the expectation: For a whole two minutes twice a day (or after every meal, if you have the time and ambition), make sure their teeth are brushed thoroughly to get those chompers as squeaky clean as possible. You can set a timer or play a favorite tune to keep them scrub-a-dub-dubbing the full length of time.
Step 5. Teach them to floss: Flossing once a day is just as important as brushing twice a day—after all, it’s basically just brushing another side of their teeth. You can begin by using kids’ floss that comes on a handle to help them maneuver it between their teeth.
Next: Help protect your kid’s pearly whites—and overall short- and long-term health—by following our guide to healthy snacking.