July 17, 2018

Ask the Dentist: Whoever Heard of Deciduous Teeth?

Dr. Ekta Cheba
A neighbor is expecting and is seemingly an expert on everything to with child rearing. Lately she has been talking about her baby’s deciduous teeth. Are they some new category of teeth? She also says she knows her baby is female, so she is going to have faster development dentally. Whatever is she on about here? I’ve also heard that not everybody has the same number of teeth. What determines that?

No new category of teeth. There are a few names for baby teeth, and ‘deciduous teeth’ is one of them. You’ll also sometimes hear of them being referred to as ‘milk teeth’, primary, or temporary teeth. These teeth generally start to erupt between 6 and 12 months, with the lower jaw generally appearing a month or so before the upper jaw. You are issued 20 of these teeth and children usually have all these teeth between their second and third year. Some of these same teeth will remain until age 12 so it is important to care for them. As children age, they generally get a total of 28 permanent teeth plus another 4 wisdom teeth. This usually happens between 6 and 13 years of age for the most part (while wisdom teeth usually come in around 18-20). Your friend is generally correct in that girls often have a speedier dental development than boys but we have seen the opposite too. One interesting thing about teeth is that they appear (or erupt) in a symmetrical process – occurring simultaneously on both sides of the dental arch. This process is regulated by the child’s development and craniofacial growth. It involves both bone and tissue development. We’re all unique, but we do follow certain patterns. As for everyone not having the same number, some people have more teeth called super numerary teeth and some are missing teeth (or hypodontia). Missing teeth can occur in a surprising number of cases. About 20% of adults are missing one or more wisdom teeth. About 5% are lacking a second molar or lateral incisor. This is often genetic and can also be associated with some syndromes. Missing teeth are also more common in females. Dentists face complex challenges when we treat these patients. It can involve an orthodontist, an oral surgeon, a periodontist, and a restorative dentist. Treatment planning and communication between dentists involves the patient’s age, facial type, spacing, tooth anatomy (shape, colour, and size), bone quality and quantity, and gingival (gum) display. Dental implants are employed in some cases, but this must wait until the patient’s jaw is mature. The esthetics, or appearance, and function can be vastly improved when missing teeth are replaced as opposed to leaving spaces in our mouth!

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