Teeth vary in their size, shape and location in the jaw from individual to individual. All of these factors work together to help individuals speak, chew and smile. The form of the teeth also helps give individuals the shape and form of their faces. Throughout individuals’ lives, they will have two sets of teeth, the first of which are known as deciduous teeth.
What Are Deciduous Teeth?
Deciduous teeth, also referred to as baby teeth, milk teeth, lacteal teeth or primary teeth, are the first 20 teeth that people usually possess at birth. However, these teeth are not immediately visible at first because they require more development before they erupt from the gums and become visible and able to use. The term “deciduous” literally means “to fall off,” hence the term “deciduous teeth” since these teeth will eventually fall out of the mouth to be replaced by the permanent teeth. Deciduous teeth are considered extremely important to oral development since they guide the placement for permanent teeth as well as the development of the muscles and formation of the jaw line. Additionally, the deciduous teeth are essential in the development of speech in children as well as the assistance in chewing food.
Formation of Deciduous Teeth
Deciduous teeth actually begin forming during the embryonic stage of development, which essentially means when the child is still within the mother’s womb. They don’t become visible, though, until infancy. Calcification of the deciduous teeth actually begins during the first four months of fetal life, and by the end of the sixth month of fetal life all of the deciduous teeth have begun the calcification process. The calcification process is basically the process during which the bone is formed beneath the gums, and this is part of why expecting mothers are advised to engage in good nutrition that is high in calcium so that the fetus develops appropriately.
Eruption of Deciduous Teeth
First of all, deciduous teeth tend to erupt from the gums and become visible in pairs, and usually the lower deciduous teeth erupt first. Although there is a tentative timeline of when each tooth erupts, eruption dates may vary. Whereas some infants get the deciduous teeth early, others might get them later than normal. Part of what influences eruption patterns is genetics. For instance, if an infant’s parents or siblings had early or late eruptions, then the infant might have one of the conditions as well. Generally, though, all of an infant’s teeth have erupted somewhere between 20 and 30 months.
Transition to Permanent Teeth
When the deciduous teeth tend to be shed varies from individual to individual, but, generally, the first deciduous tooth to be lost occurs at approximately six years of age. Again, though, some children might shed their teeth earlier than others while others might shed theirs later than is the norm. Regardless, throughout the childhood, teenage and young adult years, the deciduous teeth will gradually shed until they are completely replaced by permanent teeth. In fact, as soon as the deciduous teeth erupt, the calcification process for the permanent teeth begins. Most individuals have completely shed their deciduous teeth by the age of 21, and most individuals will also gain additional teeth in the backs of their mouths that didn’t have deciduous teeth above them, providing them with a total of 32 teeth instead of the 20 that they started out with. These extra teeth are oftentimes referred to as “wisdom teeth.”
Differences between Deciduous Teeth and Permanent Teeth
There are a few primary differences that specifically differentiate the deciduous teeth from the permanent teeth. First of all, deciduous teeth are fewer in number and smaller in size than permanent teeth. Additionally, the enamel found on deciduous teeth is much thinner and whiter in appearance than permanent teeth. Also, whereas the permanent teeth have rounder crowns, the deciduous teeth are more constricted at the neck. Finally, the roots of the deciduous teeth are longer and narrower than that of their successors.
The University of Illinois at Chicago. “The deciduous dentition/The importance of the deciduous dentition.” Retrieved on February 11, 2016, from http://www.uic.edu/classes/orla/orla312/DeciduousDent.htm.
American Dental Association. “Eruption Charts.” Retrieved on February 11, 2016, from http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/e/eruption-charts.
The University of Illinois at Chicago
1200 West Harrison Street
Chicago, Illinois 60607
American Dental Association
211 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60611-2678