dr. whittemore of pediatric dentistry of central iowa with locations in west des moines and ankeny
"Creating and caring for beautiful little smiles since 1975"

Your Child’s Development

Nothing is more rewarding than watching your child grow and develop with each passing day. Here you will find information on what to expect of your child’s developing smile.

Before Your Baby Arrives:

The mother’s health during pregnancy is very important during the development of the child and this is also true of dental health. Regarding the unborn child’s dental development, there are two important aspects to consider: a balanced diet and keeping the mother’s teeth and gums healthy.

Importance of a Balanced Diet

A balanced diet is critical for the proper development of an unborn child. Teeth begin to form in the second month of pregnancy and to harden between the third and sixth months of pregnancy. A balanced diet that provides adequate amounts of vitamins A, C and D, protein, calcium and phosphorous helps develop healthy teeth. Inadequate nutrition, on the other hand, may result in poorly-formed tooth enamel that may make a child more likely to develop cavities once the teeth have erupted.

Keeping Mother’s Teeth and Gums Healthy

A mother’s decay-causing bacteria can be transmitted to her child, so it is important to have maternal teeth free of decay before the birth. Pregnant women may have the desire to eat more frequently between meals. While this is normal, frequent snacking can be an invitation to tooth decay. The decay process begins with plaque, an invisible, sticky layer of harmful bacteria that constantly forms on teeth. The bacteria convert sugar and starches that remain in the mouth to an acid that attacks tooth enamel. Brushing your teeth twice a day and cleaning between teeth daily with floss or another interdental cleaner can reduce the risk of decay.

Plaque that is not removed can irritate the gums, making them red, tender, and likely to bleed easily. This condition is called gingivitis and can lead to more serious periodontal disease that affects the gums and bone that anchor teeth in place. During pregnancy, a woman’s hormone levels rise considerably. Gingivitis, especially common during the second to eight months of pregnancy, may cause red, puffy or tender gums that tend to bleed when brushed. This sensitivity is an exaggerated response to plaque and is caused by an increased level of progesterone. Poor periodontal health in the mother may lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes like premature delivery and low birth weight of the baby. Mothers should see a dentist regularly throughout pregnancy. The dentist may recommend more frequent cleanings during the second trimester or early third trimester to help avoid problems.

Birth to Six Years

People usually think of a newborn baby as having no teeth. But the 20 primary teeth that will erupt during the first three years already are present at birth in the baby’s jawbones. At birth, most of the crowns of the baby’s teeth are almost complete, and the chewing surfaces of the permanent molars have begun forming.
Primary teeth are important in normal development -for chewing, speaking, and appearance. In addition, the primary teeth hold the space in the jaws for the permanent teeth. Both primary and permanent teeth help give the face its shape and form.

A baby’s front four teeth usually erupt first, typically at about six months of age, although some children don’t have their first tooth until 12 or 14 months. Most children have a full set of 20 primary teeth by the time they are three years old. As your child grows, the jaws also grow, making room for the permanent teeth that will begin to erupt at about age six. At the same time, the roots of the primary teeth begin to be absorbed by the tissues around them, and the permanent teeth under them begin to erupt. Typically, children have the majority of their permanent teeth by 12 to 14 years of age. The remaining four permanent molars, often called “wisdom teeth,” erupt around age 21 to complete the set of 32 permanent teeth.

Primary Teeth Eruption Chart


Six to 12 Years:

As children develop, their jaws and faces continue to change. The transition from baby teeth to adult teeth is gradual. By the time they reach adulthood, most children will progress from their 20 primary teeth to 32 permanent (adult) teeth. All the while, the jaw gradually expands to make room for the additional 12 teeth.

At about age six, maybe earlier, children begin to shed (lose) their front teeth on top and bottom. During the next six or so years, permanent teeth gradually will replace the primary teeth.

The first permanent molars usually erupt between ages five and six. For that reason, they are often called the six-year molars. They are among the “extra” permanent teeth in that they don’t replace an existing baby tooth. These important adult teeth are often mistaken for baby teeth. However, they are permanent and must be cared for properly if they are to last throughout the child’s lifetime. The six-year molars are especially important because they help determine the shape of the lower face. They also affect the position and health of other permanent teeth.