Caring for Your Child’s Changing Smile

Losing the first “baby” or primary tooth is such an exciting milestone for your young child to reach. This loss of teeth typically starts around the age of 6 or 7, though it can happen a bit earlier or later depending on the child (my son lost his first tooth at age 5 ½). While your child is likely feeling excited about the prospect of gaining more “adult” teeth, you might find yourself feeling unprepared with the care of these newly sprouted permanent teeth. As a dental professional, here are some of the most common questions parents have asked concerning the growth of permanent teeth.


Why are new teeth yellower than baby teeth?

Permanent teeth are larger and contain more dentin, a yellowish layer of hard tissue within the tooth that supports the hard outer shell of enamel, and the inner nerve of the tooth. Its role in the support and health of a tooth is vital, but because there is more of it in your child’s permanent teeth, the new teeth will appear more yellow in comparison to the smaller, whiter primary teeth, which contain less dentin. Once all permanent teeth grow in, the color discrepancy will appear less noticeable.


Why are new teeth jagged?

Why are new teeth jagged?

The jaggedness seen in newly erupted permanent front teeth has to do with how the teeth developed while your child was still a baby. Cute, right? Teeth form from three lobes – as these lobes fuse together, it creates the bumps seen on the “chewing” or incisal edges of teeth. These little bumps are called mamelons and are completely normal! Adults typically do not have them because they wear away over time as teeth rub together while eating and speaking.


The baby teeth have not yet fallen out and the permanent teeth have started to come through. What should I do?

Dental professionals usually refer to this condition as “shark teeth” for its appearance to a shark which also has several rows of teeth. The condition occurs when the permanent tooth does not grow in following the same path as the primary tooth it is replacing. This is often due to a lack of room in the mouth, since permanent teeth are larger than primary teeth.

Generally, the permanent tooth dissolves the roots of the primary tooth as it grows in allowing the primary tooth to “fall out” or shed, but this does not happen with shark teeth, since the tooth followed a different path due to a lack of space for it.

 The baby teeth have not yet fallen out and the permanent teeth have started to come through. What should I do?

Until the primary tooth comes out, you want to make sure the area is being cleaned properly every day, so gum tissues do not get irritated from plaque or food build-up. Flossing and brushing properly are essential – if the toothbrush can’t access the area between the primary and permanent tooth, Grin Kids flossers can be helpful for cleaning the site.

To help determine if treatment for “shark teeth” is needed, you first want to feel the primary tooth to see if it is loose. The looseness of the tooth will determine what your next step will be. If the primary tooth is loose, it will likely wiggle out on its own after a few weeks and no treatment is needed. You can even have your child wiggle the tooth each day with a clean finger or their tongue to help facilitate the tooth’s loss. If the primary tooth is not loose, this should be looked at by your child’ pediatric dentist to determine if any interventions are needed. The dentist may opt to monitor the tooth a bit longer or recommend extraction to allow the permanent teeth to grow in in its correct position.


What should I do if my child’s new teeth are not aligned properly?

Seeing your child’s pediatric dentist is a good first step, especially if the alignment of teeth is making brushing, flossing, or eating difficult for your child. The dentist may refer your child to an orthodontist who specializes in the identification of issues related to jaw growth and the developing teeth. The orthodontist may decide to monitor your child’s growth and development or recommend treatment, depending on what your child presents with.


When can I start correcting irregular teeth?

When can I start correcting irregular teeth?


Early intervention is best. In fact, The American Association of Orthodontists recommends seeing an orthodontist as early as age 7 for an evaluation of your child’s jaw growth and development. The advantage to seeing an orthodontist for early treatment is that it often prevents more severe bite issues down the road and can make future treatment shorter and less complicated.


Which is better, an electric toothbrush or a manual toothbrush?

This answer really depends on your child and what they can tolerate. Some children like the vibration of an electric toothbrush over the wiggly tickle of a manual toothbrush. Some children, on the other hand, do not like the vibration sounds of an electric toothbrush and prefer the quiet of a manual toothbrush.

My son prefers the quiet. He had an electric toothbrush from the time he was about 18 months old, but as he got older, he would frequently request for me to turn the vibration off. That went on for about 2 years – using an electric toothbrush without the power. When I finally asked him why he didn’t like the electric toothbrush a few weeks ago, he told me “I don’t like the way it feels in my mouth or the way it vibrates”. He has been much happier since we made the switch to the Grin Kids manual toothbrush, with its super soft bristles. I’m happy too, since I know it’s doing a thorough job at plaque removal to keep his growing smile healthy.


Choosing the right products for your child’s new teeth is important.

The transition from primary to permanent teeth is an exciting time for children (especially if they receive frequent visits from the tooth fairy!) but it is also important for oral health care to be maintained so these new teeth will last your child throughout their lifetime. Encouraging daily care of their changing smile through brushing and floss is an absolute must!

About the Author:

Katie Steger

Katie Steger, BSDH, is a dental hygienist and mom and the founder of @healthyteeth.fortots, a platform designed to provide early childhood oral health education and support to parents. Katie is passionate about oral health education, the impact of nutrition on the developing dentition, and educating parents and families on strategies to make oral hygiene a priority.