What are Primary Teeth?

wiseGEEK Writer

Primary teeth or baby teeth are the first teeth a child gets. Over time these will appear in the mouth, though they developed in fetal state, and eventually be lost and replaced with permanent teeth. The eruption process of primary teeth takes a few years, but losing them takes much longer, and many of these teeth will remain until children are about 12 years of age.

Signs a baby is teething include excessive drooling, fussiness and possibly a slight increase in body temperature.
Signs a baby is teething include excessive drooling, fussiness and possibly a slight increase in body temperature.

Each child is on a slightly different schedule when it comes to first showing primary teeth. Most dental experts cite the usual age of eruption of the first few at about six months, but they can come in earlier or later. Early or late eruption may be somewhat related to genetics and similar to tooth eruption patterns of both parents. Teeth do tend to appear in a predictable manner, beginning with front teeth eruption and appearing in consecutive order on each side of the mouth. In all, children tend to have 20 primary teeth and most are fully visible by age two, approximately.

Children have baby or primary teeth.
Children have baby or primary teeth.

There are a couple of things to understand about baby teeth. Like permanent teeth, dental care for them is very important. In fact, severe problems with primary teeth may affect health and development of permanent teeth. Most dental organizations recommend that babies have an initial tooth checkup when they are about one: to verify healthy development and make certain teeth aren’t decaying.

Baby teeth can get cavities and are subject to severe decay, particularly in infants who are allowed to bottle feed for long periods of time. Not only should parents start a little gentle cleaning of teeth, but also it’s recommended they never bottle feed juice to infants. Even after breast or formula feeding, wiping the baby teeth with a cloth is suggested. In all cases, primary teeth should not be considered “throw away” teeth, as significant problems with these teeth may severely affect oral health.

One thing parents will certainly notice in the first years of primary teeth development is teething. While some babies seem to go through teething with few problems, others can be made very uncomfortable by this process. They may have slight fevers or show cranky behavior, particularly at night. There are a variety of teethers that may help with discomfort, though any fluid filled ones should be watched for puncture by sharp baby teeth. Sometimes giving baby acetaminophen is recommended when babies can’t seem to sleep through the night.

Another very noticeable element of emergence of the first few baby teeth is biting behavior. For nursing moms, this can be truly painful the first few times it occurs. Bottle-fed babies or those who have pacifiers do need to be watched once teeth are in. They can chew through bottle and binkie nipples easily.

As with every other part of the growing baby, primary teeth are important. Cleaning of the teeth should begin early, and some dentists recommend fluoride supplementation to protect tooth health. Regular check-ups, at least one a year from year one, may do yet more to make certain that baby teeth and oral health remain strong.

Primary teeth begin appearing around the age of six months.
Primary teeth begin appearing around the age of six months.

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Discussion Comments


@raynbow- I don't think that you have anything to worry about, but your nephew's mother should talk to his pediatrician about these concerns. He or she will be able to evaluate your nephew's mouth to determine if any problems are present.

From my experience, kids who develop their primary teeth at later ages may experience more tooth decay in them than children who cut their primary teeth at earlier ages. It's important that your nephew's parents are prepared for this.

Once your nephew's primary teeth do start to come in, he should be seen by a dentist. This will help ward off any potential dental issues, and prepare him for a life of good dental health.


Is it something to be concerned about if a child who is one year old still doesn't have very many primary teeth? My nephew doesn't seem to be cutting his teeth like other kids his age.

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