SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Teething symptoms are common in children and can be managed without medication.
- The average child has their full set of 20 primary teeth by the age of 3 years.
- Between the ages of about 6 and 7 years, the primary teeth start to shed and the permanent teeth begin to come through.
- By the age of about 21 years, the average person has 32 permanent teeth – 16 in the upper jaw and 16 in the lower jaw.
The development of primary teeth begins while the baby is in the womb. At about 5 weeks' gestation, the first buds of primary teeth appear in the baby's jaws. At birth, the baby has a full set of 20 primary teeth (10 in the upper jaw, 10 in the lower jaw) hidden under the gums. Primary teeth are also known as baby teeth, milk teeth or deciduous teeth.
Types of teeth
- Incisors – the front teeth located in the upper and lower jaws. Each incisor has a thin cutting edge. The upper and lower incisors come together like a pair of scissors to cut the food.
- Canines – the pointy teeth on both sides of the incisors in the upper and lower jaws; used to tear food.
- Premolars – which have flat surfaces to crush food.
- Molars – these are larger than premolars towards the back of the mouth, with broad, flat surfaces that grind food.
'Eruption' refers to the tooth breaking through the gum line. In babies, tooth eruption is also called teething. The timing of tooth eruption differs from child to child. For example, one child may cut their first tooth when only a few months old, while another may not start teething until they are 12 months old or more.
The exact timing may be different from child to child but the order of tooth development is more consistent.
Generally, the average child has their full set of 20 primary teeth by the age of 3 years.
Managing the teething process
Babies’ immune systems start to change when they are around 6 months old. Along with the tendency to put things in their mouths, this makes them more prone to illnesses. Symptoms of common childhood illnesses such as changes in and eating patterns, fussiness, rash, drooling, runny nose and are often linked to teething when that might not be the cause. If your child has these symptoms, speak to your child’s doctor about other possible causes such as or infections.
Teething takes about 8 days, which includes 4 days before and 3 days after the tooth comes through the gum. (You may see a blue-grey bubble on the gum where the tooth is about to appear. This is called an eruption cyst and will usually go away without treatment.) During this time, it can be tough to keep children comfortable.
Some tips include:
- Massage – gently massage the gum with clean fingers or a soft, wet cloth.
- Chilled (not frozen) teething rings or rusks – pressure from a cold object can relieve discomfort from teething. Do not sterilise plastic teething rings in boiling water or dishwater, unless specified by the manufacturer. Be sure to check product information before buying teething rings. Avoid the ones that use a plastic softener called 'diisononyl phthalate'.
- Unsweetened teething rusks or sugar-free teething biscuits – these can be given to infants over 6 months who have started eating solids.
- Pain-relieving medications – paracetamol works well for children. Ibuprofen may also help, but it is not as well tolerated by children.
- Dry the drool – the skin around the mouth, particularly the chin area, can become irritated. Gently wipe this away with a soft cloth throughout the day.
Some treatments should be used with caution or not at all. These include:
- Teething necklaces – amber is believed by some people to release healing oil on contact with warm skin. The oil is thought to be soothing or help to reduce pain. Although amber teething strings or necklaces are designed to be worn around the neck, wrist or ankle, they have been incorrectly used to chew on. The ACCC has issued a about amber teething necklaces, warning of possible choking and strangulation hazards. Parents are asked to consider other less risky ways of providing relief from teething.
- Teething gels – common teething gels contain 8.7–9.0% of the ingredient choline salicylate. Salicylate is related to aspirin. The use of aspirin for children younger than 16 is not recommended because in some children it has been known to cause Reye's syndrome – a rare but potentially lethal condition that can cause liver and brain damage. Although there has not been a reported case of Reye's syndrome associated with the use of teething gels, the general advice is that it is a risk not worth taking when there are other things available.
Teething gels containing benzocaine are also not recommended for use in children. Research also suggests that teething gels may not relieve teething pain, rather the act of massaging it into the gum is what helps.
Caring for baby teeth
Some parents may feel that caring for baby (primary) teeth isn't as important as caring for adult (permanent) teeth, simply because baby teeth fall out.
However, baby teeth are very important. They allow children to chew food and speak properly, and they reserve the spaces in the gums for future adult teeth.
Tooth decay in baby teeth
Decayed baby teeth need to be treated by a dental practitioner. In some cases, specialist treatment in a hospital under a general anaesthetic is needed. If neglected, decayed baby teeth can lead to mouth pain, dental abscesses (a boil or swelling resulting from infected teeth), and problems with the surrounding teeth. Severe decay in baby teeth can affect eating and sleep, which can slow growth.
If a baby molar is lost too early due to severe decay, adjacent baby teeth may drift into the gap and create spacing problems for the adult tooth when it comes through.
Loss of baby teeth
From the age of about 6 years, baby teeth start to become 'wobbly' and fall out to make way for adult teeth. It is perfectly normal for a child to lose their first tooth up to a year or 2 earlier or later than 6 years of age. Girls generally lose teeth earlier than boys. The first tooth to fall out is usually located in the front of the lower jaw.
Losing baby teeth can be unsettling and painful for young children. Suggestions for parents include:
- Reassure your child that losing baby teeth is a natural process and new adult teeth will come in their place. It's normal for gums to be tender and bleed a little, although some children experience little or no discomfort while losing their teeth.
- Use cold packs or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving medication to help relieve loose tooth pain. Ask your dentist or pharmacist for recommendations on appropriate medication for your child.
- Make use of the Tooth Fairy. This myth has lasted a long time with good reason! The idea of getting some money or another reward in exchange for a tooth might soften the idea of tooth loss for your child.
Permanent teeth are also known as adult teeth or secondary teeth. The permanent teeth start to develop in the jaws at birth and continue after a child is born. By about 21 years, the average person has 32 permanent teeth, including 16 in the upper jaw and 16 in the lower jaw. (In some cases, the third molars – commonly called wisdom teeth – do not develop or do not erupt so some people only have a set of 28 permanent teeth.)
At about the age of 6 years, the first permanent molar teeth erupt. These 4 molars (2 in each jaw) come out behind the child's baby teeth. Other permanent teeth, such as the incisors, canines, and premolars, erupt into the gaps in the gum left by baby teeth that are lost.
As with baby teeth, the timing for when the permanent teeth come through can differ. Generally, the order of and rough timeline for each type of permanent tooth is:
- First molars – between 6 and 7 years.
- Central incisors – between 6 and 8 years.
- Lateral incisors – between 7 and 8 years.
- Canine teeth – between 9 and 13 years.
- Premolars – between 9 and 13 years.
- Second molars – between 11 and 13 years.
- Third molars (wisdom teeth) – between the ages of 17 and 21 years, if at all.
Mouthguards protect children's teeth
Mouthguards help protect teeth and prevent dental injuries, particularly when playing and training for contact sports. All children playing contact sports should wear a custom-fitted mouthguard, even primary school-age children. Custom-fitted mouthguards are comfortable, allow speech and do not restrict breathing. Learn more about .
Where to get help
- Alkarimi HA, Watt RG, Pikhart H, et al. 2014, ‘’, Pediatrics, vol. 133, no. 3, e616–e623.
- van Gemert-Schriks MC, van Amerongen EW, Aartman IH, et al. 2011, ‘’, Clinical Oral Investigations, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 141–149.
- , Australian Dental Association.
- , Australian Dental Association.
- , Australian Dental Association.