Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. 
Deciduous teeth, otherwise known as milk teeth, baby teeth, temporary teeth or primary teeth, are the first set of teeth in the growth development of humans and many other mammals. They develop during the embryonic stage of development and erupt — that is, they become visible in the mouth — during infancy. They are usually lost and replaced by permanent teeth, but in the absence of permanent replacements, they can remain functional for many years.
Deciduous teeth start to form during the embryo phase of pregnancy. The development of deciduous teeth starts at the sixth week of development as the dental lamina. This process starts at the midline and then spreads back into the posterior region. By the time the embryo is eight weeks old, there are ten areas on the upper and lower arches that will eventually become the deciduous dentition. These teeth will continue to form until they erupt in the mouth. In the deciduous dentition there are a total of twenty teeth: five per quadrant and ten per arch. The eruption of these teeth begins at the age of six months and continues until twenty-five to thirty-three months of age. The first teeth seen in the mouth are the mandibular centrals and the last are the maxillary second molars.
The deciduous dentition is made up of centrals, laterals, canines, first molars, and secondary molars; there is one in each quadrant, making a total of four of each tooth. All of these are replaced with a permanent counterpart except for the first and second molars; they are replaced by premolars. The deciduous teeth will remain until the age of six. At that time, the permanent teeth start to appear in the mouth resulting in mixed dentition. The erupting permanent teeth causes root resorption, where the permanent teeth push down on the roots of the deciduous teeth causing the roots to be dissolved and become absorbed by the forming permanent teeth. The process of shedding deciduous teeth and the replacement by permanent teeth is called exfoliation. (Brand 195) This may last from age six to age twelve. By age twelve there usually are only permanent teeth remaining.
Various cultures have customs relating to the loss of deciduous teeth; see tooth fairy.
Deciduous teeth are considered essential in the development of the oral cavity by dental researchers and dentists. The permanent teeth replacements develop from the same tooth bud as the deciduous teeth; this provides a guide for permanent teeth eruption. Also the muscles of the jaw and the formation of the jaw bones depend on the primary teeth in order to maintain the proper space for permanent teeth. The roots of deciduous teeth provide an opening for the permanent teeth to erupt. These teeth are also needed in the development of a child’s ability to speak and chew their food correctly.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that “infants be seen by a dentist by 6 months or after the eruption of the first primary tooth and by no later than the age of 1” (Wilkins, p 783). During that visit, parents can learn how to provide proper care to a child’s deciduous teeth and avoid oral disease. One way to avoid the risks of oral disease in deciduous teeth is by using an orthodontic pacifier, a pacifier with a flattened nipple, instead of one with a nipple that is rounded. These pacifiers should not be cleaned by the parents’ mouth to avoid the spread of streptococcus mutans bacteria (cavity causing bacteria) from the parents to the baby’s mouth. Another way of preventing oral disease is by not using any kind of sweet liquid in the baby’s bottle or sippy cup. The only liquids that should be put in these is water or milk, unless it is during meal time. Bottles should also not be taken to bed with children because this can cause cavities. Baby bottle caries (cavities from bottle use) are caused by a child going to bed with a bottle containing a sweet liquid such as juice or sweetened milk, when the child falls asleep the liquid collects around the teeth. Dental researchers suggest that parents should start oral hygiene care as soon as the first tooth erupts, around the age of six months. They can do this by using an infant toothbrush and water, then after the child reaches the age of two a tiny bit of fluoride toothpaste can be used. (Wilkins, 794)
- Ash, Major M. and Stanley J. Nelson, 2003. Wheeler’s Dental Anatomy, Physiology, and Occlusion. 8th edition.
- Brand, Richard W., BS, DDS, and Donald E, Isselhard, BS, DDS. “Deciduous Dentition.” Anatomy of Oralfacial Structures. 1977. Ed. Shirley Kuhn and Kathrine Macciocca. 7th ed. St. Louis, MIssouri: Mosby, 2003. 194-224.
- “Dentition, Primary.” Mosby’s Dental Dictionary. Ed. Penny Rudolph and Jaime Pendill. St. Louis, MIssouri, 2004.
- LePeau, Nancy Sisty, RDH, MS, MA. “Pediatric Oral Health Care: Infancy through Age 5.” Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygientist. By Esther M. Wilkins. Ed. John Goucher and Kevin C. Dietz. 9th ed. Baltamore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, n.d. 782-802.
- “Primary Teeth.” Consise Medical Dictionary. Ed. Oxiford University Press. 2002 ed. Oxford Reference Online. 2002. Oxford University. 31 Jan. 2006 <http://www.oxfordreference.com>.
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