Babies are usually born with 20 baby teeth (also known as primary teeth). They start to come through the gums at about 6 months and all the teeth have usually appeared by the time the baby is 2 to 3 years old. This process is called teething. The teeth will fall out at various times during childhood.
About baby teeth
Babies are born with the following teeth:
- 4 second molars
- 4 first molars
- 4 canine teeth
- 4 lateral incisors
- 4 central incisors
There is one set on each side of the upper jaw, and one on each side of the lower jaw.
The teeth in the centre of the bottom jaw often come through first, sometime between 4 months and 10 months.
Each child is different so don’t worry if your baby’s teeth appear earlier or later. Talk to your dentist if you are worried.
Your child’s jaw will continue to grow and permanent teeth will start to replace the baby teeth when the child is around age 6.
The outer covering of baby teeth is made of thinner enamel than the enamel of permanent teeth and this makes the baby teeth look whiter. It also means they are more likely to get tooth decay.
Baby teeth also have shorter and different shaped roots from permanent teeth, making it easier for the roots to dissolve later and to allow space for permanent teeth to grow underneath them.
Babies can be quite uncomfortable when they are teething. Try chilled (not frozen) teething rings, wash cloths or dummies to ease the pain.
Baby teeth are important
Baby teeth help your child to chew food easily and to pronounce words properly. They are also needed to hold a place in the jaw for the permanent teeth to come through later.
It is important to keep baby teeth clean. This will protect against infection, cavities and pain. Decayed baby teeth can damage the permanent teeth underneath.
How to care for baby teeth
Baby teeth can start to decay as soon as they appear in the mouth. Frequent exposure to sugary liquids can destroy the teeth.
You should wipe your baby’s gums with a wet facecloth or a clean gauze pad after each feed. You can brush your baby’s first tooth as soon as it appears with a soft toothbrush and a little water.
Older children should be supervised while they are cleaning their teeth. Children over 18 months can use a pea-sized amount of children’s low-fluoride toothpaste and if possible should be taught not to swallow it. They should rinse with water after brushing.
To reduce the risk of tooth decay:
- Never allow your baby to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, fruit juice or sweetened liquid.
- Don’t dip a dummy in sugar or honey.
- Clean the dummy before you give it to your baby.
- Visit your dentist by about 12 months.
If you are worried about your baby’s tooth development, call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to talk to a maternal child health nurse.
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Last reviewed: September 2019