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Children's Dental Development and Tooth Loss

Children age 6 and up experience a lot of dental change, with the mouth losing their first baby teeth and making way for adult teeth.

Around age 6, your child will have begun losing all their baby teeth to make room for their permanent, or adult, teeth. Tooth loss continues until around age 12-14. In the meantime, your child’s adult teeth will begin erupting, a process which takes several years.

During this period, expect some school photos featuring silly, partially-toothed grins as your child’s 20 baby teeth are gradually replaced by 28 adult teeth. (Third molars, better known as wisdom teeth, will bring this number up to 32, but likely not until your kids are in their late teens and early 20s, and no longer kids!)

Again, baby teeth will erupt of their own accord—a little wiggling is okay, but encourage your kids not to aggressively force or pull loose teeth out.

Loss of Baby Teeth & Eruption of Adult Teeth

6-7 Years: First molars, both upper and lower, erupt. These come in at the back of the mouth, behind the baby teeth already there and don’t replace any primary teeth. Also during this period, the upper and lower central incisors fall out, and the lower central incisors come in.

7-8 Years: The upper and lower lateral incisors fall out. The upper central and lower lateral incisors erupt.

8-9 Years: The upper lateral incisors come in.

9-10 Years: Loss of upper and lower first molars.

10-12 Years: All 4 second baby molars are shed. The upper canines erupt (usually between ages 11 and 12). The upper and lower second molars also erupt, although for some kids this won’t begin until they’re as old as 13-14.

Yellow Adult Teeth

As your child’s adult teeth come in, you may notice a fairly startling contrast in colours. Next to your baby’s “milk teeth”—so-called because of how bright and white they are—their permanent teeth might range anywhere from yellow-ish to very yellow.

Unless your child has sustained some injury to their new teeth, this is normal and nothing to worry about. In fact, those new teeth aren’t really yellow.

The colour differences between baby and adult teeth highlight how much more durable adult teeth are. Beneath their top layer of protective enamel, adult teeth have significantly thicker layers of dentin than baby teeth do; dentin protects tooth pulp if something breaks through or erodes the protective enamel on top.

Dentin also contains hints of yellow, red and/or grey, which is why adult teeth are often darker than baby teeth are.

Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

Many children grind their teeth at night, something parents and caregivers may notice because of the noise it makes, visible wear to their kids’ teeth or because their kids complain of headaches or facial discomfort, usually in the morning.

Causes may include stress from changes at home or school; grinding can also result from pressure changes (such as during air travel), in response to which kids may unconsciously grind their teeth to normalize inner ear pressure. Grinding can possibly also be due to an obstruction in the airway during sleep. This cause would be better caught earlier than later, so an assessment may include referral for a sleep study.

Happily, most children will stop grinding their teeth without any medical intervention. In fact, most grinders will begin to do so less and less between 6 and 9, while most will stop completely by age 12.

If your child doesn’t stop grinding their teeth within this broad timeframe, or if they experience more than minor pain or tooth damage because of it, take them to their pediatric dentist for assessment.


At Home

By the time your child is 8-9 years old, they should be able to brush their teeth without constant supervision. However, be sure to check in frequently anyway to:

  • Make sure their technique is effective, and that they’re taking enough time to properly clean each tooth.
  • Continue to help them with flossing and make sure it is done consistently every night.
  • Look for excessive wear if they grind their teeth.

At the Dentist’s Office

Your child should still be seeing their dentist twice yearly for regular cleanings and check-ups, to make sure their teeth are developing properly, being properly taken care of at home and to treat any problems as they pop up.

Such frequent visits are especially important for kids between 6 and 12—because this is when they’re getting the teeth they’re going to need to hang on to for the rest of their lives. It’s crucial that they establish really consistent and effective dental hygiene habits early.

This is also the time to consider sealants, and to determine whether or not your child requires orthodontic treatment.


Sealants are designed to protect the back teeth (premolars and molars), which are more vulnerable to decay than other teeth are—in fact, 80% of children’s cavities occur in the back teeth. Back teeth can be difficult to effectively brush, both because they’re way at the back of the mouth, and because they often have very deep grooves or ridges.

Sealants are made of a thin but durable plastic (clear or shaded); once applied to those hard-to-reach premolars and molars, sealants help prevent food, acid and plaque from building up in the grooves or around the teeth, which in turn helps prevent tooth decay.


As you monitor your 6-12-year-old’s dental hygiene habits and watch for wear caused by grinding, keep an eye out for the following as well:

  • Crowded teeth, especially front teeth
  • Crooked teeth, anywhere in the mouth
  • Top and bottom jaw not coming together/aligning properly

Dental development problems like these can create eating and chewing problems, as well as pain and discomfort that can undermine sleep patterns and mood. Tooth placement and bite issues can also increase the chances of your child developing tooth decay because it can be especially difficult to properly brush and floss misaligned teeth.

Such issues are normally treated with the branch of dentistry known as orthodontics, which may include corrective devices like braces, retainers and head gear.

Your pediatric dentist is qualified to perform early orthodontic treatments but will refer children with very severe or complex bite, jaw or tooth placement problems to an Orthodontist.

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