At some point, we’ve all heard an epic story about the creative ways to pull out a loose baby tooth—whether it’s from your own experience as a kid, things you’ve tried on your kids, or some video that has gone viral on YouTube, losing baby teeth is an unavoidable fate that everyone experiences. Because nature will do its thing, there is not much we can do to avoid our kids from losing teeth. We may as well embrace it and know how to properly handle wiggly baby teeth.
As a parent, if you’re prepared and informed about the easiest and most comfortable ways to pull loose baby teeth, you’ll be able to help your child when the time comes.
When Do Kids Start Losing Baby Teeth?
On average, children start to get loose baby teeth around age 6. This is just the average though. Some children will experience their first loose tooth at age 4, or even as late as age 8. Given this large span, there are some ways that you can predict when your child will lose his or her first baby tooth.
We can use the timing of when your child grew in his or her first baby tooth as a forecast as to when the first permanent tooth will grow in. The average age for babies to get their first tooth is age 6 months. If your baby cut his or her first tooth early (around 3-4 months), chances are high that their first permanent tooth will grow in early as well (maybe around age 4-5 years old). If your baby didn’t cut his or her first tooth until close to age 1, then don’t expect permanent teeth to grow in until closer to age 7-8.
How Many Teeth Do Kids Lose?
All humans have 20 baby teeth and 32 adult teeth. Through childhood, we lose 20 baby teeth that are replaced by stronger, bigger, and longer permanent teeth. Children lose their first baby tooth around age 6, and the final baby teeth fall out around age 12-13. The permanent teeth that replace baby teeth are called “succedaneous” teeth. The remaining 12 adult teeth (aside from the 20 that replaced the baby teeth) are the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd sets of permanent molars. We also refer to these as the 6-year molars, the 12-year molars, and the wisdom teeth. Permanent adult molars grow in into the empty space in the back of our mouths behind where our baby teeth were.
While humans are engineered to have 20 baby teeth and 32 adult teeth, there are certain exceptions to the rules. In some instances, our bodies produce fewer than 32 adult teeth. The official term for this is “congenitally missing teeth.” If there is a congenitally missing adult tooth, there may not be a permanent tooth to push out a baby tooth. In this case, the baby tooth will stay in place into adulthood. The most common place this occurs is with the second set of baby molars (the ones farthest in the back).
Family history and genetics is the most influential piece to determine if your child will have congenitally missing teeth. The topic of missing teeth can become a fun Thanksgiving dinner conversation, as you may learn some interesting facts about your family’s tooth history!
In What Order Do Baby Teeth Fall Out?
For the most part, baby teeth will fall out in the same order that they grew in. The first teeth to get loose are the bottom central incisors (the teeth in the very front). Tooth loss usually happens in pairs, so when the right central incisor gets loose, expect the left-side counterpart to follow suit within the upcoming weeks or months. After the bottom central incisors fall out, next up is usually the top central incisors or the bottom lateral incisors. The lateral incisors are the second tooth from the middle. A lot of people call these “side teeth.”
Over the course of about two years (6-8 years of age), expect your child to lose 8 teeth. These would be the four top front teeth (the incisors) and the four bottom front teeth.
Once all the incisors have fallen out and the permanent adult teeth have started to grow in, the next set of teeth you can expect your child to lose is going to be the bottom canines or the first set of baby molars. The canines and molars tend to fall out over the course of two or three years. The last teeth to fall out are most often the top baby canines or second set of molars.
It is important to note that some children will lose teeth in a slightly different order, especially when it comes to canine and molar tooth loss. If this happens to your child, don’t fret, as there is lots of variation to the standard textbook charts. If you have a more pressing concern about your child’s pattern and age for losing teeth, you should check in with your child’s pediatric dentist.
Tips For Relieving Your Kid’s Loose Baby Tooth Pain
Unless your child loses a tooth due to blunt trauma (we hope not!), the time it takes for a tooth to become loose and then actually fall out is usually a few months. When a baby tooth first starts to get loose, your child might not even notice and is able to eat and chew with no complaint. However, as teeth get looser and looser, biting into harder objects—whole apples, corn on the cob, or carrots, for example, may produce mild, or even significant discomfort. This is generally the case for front teeth that get loose. When the baby molars get loose, chewing harder or crunchier foods may be more difficult, such as nuts, granola bars, or pretzels.
As the roots of the baby teeth start to resorb (or dissolve), the edges of the baby tooth root get pushed into the gums with repeated chewing and biting. For some children, this can cause localized discomfort. If your child experiences a toothache or soreness with loose baby teeth, the episodes of discomfort are primarily with eating. Try to have your child eat on the other side, and avoid hard, crunchy foods.
Some children will also complain that it hurts to brush loose baby teeth. To be more exact, it is not the tooth that hurts, but the gums surrounding the loose tooth. The localized discomfort associated with sore gums can be exacerbated due to heavy plaque and poor oral hygiene.
While it is tempting to avoid brushing in areas where teeth are loose, the best and fastest way to make the gums feel better is to brush routinely to remove plaque and bacteria that can cause gingivitis and gum infections. You don’t need to scrub hard. Be gentle, yet thorough.
If your child is still experiencing pain with loose baby teeth, it is okay to give over-the-counter pain medicine (such as Tylenol or Motrin) as a temporary relief.
Why Do Baby Teeth Become Loose in the First Place?
Teeth are anchored into the jaw by long roots. The roots of most teeth are 2-3 times longer than the actual tooth itself. Furthermore, some teeth (molars) have multiple roots, which provide for even more anchorage. Here’s an interesting fact: top molars have 3 roots, while bottom molars have 2 roots. Incisors and canines only have one root.
When permanent tooth buds start to grow larger in size, they propel towards the surface. This migration towards the surface puts pressure on the roots of the baby teeth, causing the roots to shorten and resorb. As the permanent tooth gets closer and closer to the surface, the root of the baby tooth will get shorter, which makes the baby tooth get progressively looser. A baby tooth will only get loose if a permanent tooth is ready to grow in.
When the time comes for the baby tooth to fall out, the root of the baby tooth will be fully resorbed. That is why when the tooth falls out, we never see any remaining root fragments.
The main exception to this rule is if a tooth gets traumatized from a fall or accident. This blunt force can cause the loosening of teeth. Depending on the severity of the injury, often the loose tooth will tighten back up, or in other instances, the blunt force from trauma may cause the tooth to fall out earlier than expected.
How Long Does It Take for New Permanent Teeth to Grow In?
As noted above, baby teeth get loose and fall out when the permanent tooth is ready to grow in. In many instances, once a baby tooth falls out, the permanent tooth is already visible at the level of the gums. If the adult tooth is visible when the baby tooth falls out, it still may take 6-12 months for the permanent tooth to fully grow in.
For children whose mouths are very crowded, it can often take over a year for permanent teeth to grow in after the baby tooth falls out. The reason being, most permanent teeth are larger than baby teeth; therefore it can take more time for those larger teeth to push their way through the gums and get oriented into the correct position. For children who have insufficient space, permanent teeth may grow in crooked or rotated. The more crowded the mouth, the longer it will take for permanent teeth to grow in.
Shark Teeth in Kids
This is not the real, technical term, but “shark teeth” is the phrase often used when a permanent tooth is growing in while the baby tooth is still in place. The result is rows of teeth, hence the name “shark teeth.” The most common area for this to occur is the bottom incisors.
The reason this occurs is due to the position of the permanent tooth being close to the tongue, while the baby tooth sits farther forward. While it can look a little unsettling (and odd…), the general rule of thumb is to not do anything and let the baby tooth fall out naturally. If the baby tooth is loose, it will still fall out normally on its own. As the permanent tooth emerges more through the gums, the pressure from the tongue will help push the misaligned adult tooth forward into the arch form, so it is in the correct position.
On the other hand, if the permanent tooth fully grows in and the baby tooth is not loose at all, extraction by your child’s dentist is the ultimate fate of the baby tooth. Don’t fret quite yet. If you notice your child has shark teeth, just give it some time. In most instances, the baby teeth will still fall out naturally; it just may take a little extra time.
How to Wiggle Loose Baby Teeth
If your child notices that he or she has a loose baby tooth, the best thing to do is to start wiggling! Even if the movement is minor, wiggling on the tooth daily will allow your child to gauge the extent of looseness and will help curb any surprises.
When it comes to the motion of “the wiggle,” it is not just the back and forth movement that is going to loosen the tooth from the gums. Twisting the tooth clockwise and then counter-clockwise is another great motion that will allow the tooth to fall out faster.
When the baby tooth is loosened to the max and is ready to come out, here are some tips for the big event:
- Place an ice cube along the gums for a few minutes prior to wiggling it out. This will help numb the gums, making it more comfortable for your child.
- Use a clean tissue or napkin to dry the tooth off. Wet teeth are very slippery, whereas dry teeth are easier to grab onto.
- Twist the tooth in one direction and hold for 5-10 seconds. Then twist in the other direction and hold. Holding the tooth in the twisting position will stretch the gum fibers, freeing the tooth from the gums more easily.
When it’s go-time, removing a baby tooth is kind of like ripping off a band-aid. There might be a moment of surprise, but a quick final twist is often enough to get the job done.
Foods That Can Help Baby Teeth Fall Out Faster
Whether your child eats something by accident that causes a baby tooth to come out, or if he or she intentionally wants a loose baby tooth to come out faster, there are certain foods that can help accelerate the tooth-losing process.
For loose front baby teeth, biting into harder foods with the front teeth will cause loose teeth to flex and move more within the gums. The flexure is similar to big wiggle movements. Biting into a whole apple, or eating corn on the cob are some examples. Even biting into a carrot stick or a hard baguette can produce similar movements to help the loose baby tooth fall out faster.
As much as we hate to admit it, chewy, sticky candies are great things to help loose molars fall out. Caramels and taffy candies are sticky enough, with repeated chewing, the stickiness can literally pull the tooth right out. Just make sure to brush after.
What to Do When Baby Teeth Won’t Come Out
If your child has tried absolutely everything, and the loose baby tooth still hasn’t fallen out, there are two options. Option 1: Give it some more time and keep wiggling at home. Or, Option 2: Give your pediatric dentist a call to have the tooth removed in the office. Pediatric dentists have special medicines and tools to make baby tooth extractions rather smooth and straight forward.
At Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, we are prepared to answer all your questions about loose baby teeth and so much more! To schedule an appointment with our pediatric dentist, call, text or email. We look forward to meeting you!
Dr. Dana grew up in Portland, and went to Temple University in Philadelphia, PA for dental school. She then moved to Anchorage, AK for her residency in Pediatric Dentistry. Dr. Dana takes a holistic approach to pediatric dentistry & is able to use her own parenting experience to sympathize and understand each family’s unique dynamic.