Why Do We Have “Baby” Teeth?

Growing up anticipating that the Tooth Fairy will remunerate us for our lost primary, or “baby,” teeth was an exciting way of coping with this childhood rite of passage. An easy exchange of a tooth for a buck (the going rate of children’s teeth may have increased through the years) made the idea of a gap-toothed grin kind of worthwhile. But beyond their income potential, what actually are “baby” teeth and why do we have them? Dr. Deborah Himelhoch of Smiles in Framingham has years of professional experience as a pediatric dentist near Marlborough, MA, and knows the purpose of primary teeth, as well as how they work!

Teething; the early years.

As mammals, human beings are born with their 20 primary teeth already in their jaws, and these primary teeth will begin to emerge in a process called teething when the baby is between six months and one year of age. Dr. Deborah Himelhoch says that most children have their full complement of primary teeth by the time they are 3 years old. The primary teeth often emerge in a predictable order throughout the mouth, and you can predict when new teeth may emerge. Teething babies are often irritable because of the sensitivity teething can bring to the soft tissues of a baby’s mouth. A pacifier, some wet gauze, even a pinky tip will help distract the baby from their discomfort.

Place holders.

A child’s primary teeth are more than just dental training wheels for them to learn to eat. While a child’s primary teeth are in use, their permanent teeth are busy forming and growing within their jaw. A friend at Smiles in Framingham says that the primary teeth guide the permanent teeth into the spaces left by the baby teeth when they fall out. That’s why missing baby teeth may result in crooked emerging adult teeth. That’s why learning good oral health care habits early in life can lead to healthier teeth and gums in adulthood.

Dentist visits.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that a child have an examination by a dentist experienced in treating pediatric patients within 6 months of the child’s birth and no later than one full year after birth. These examinations in most cases are not much more than a “well-baby checkup” for the child’s primary teeth. Dr. Deborah Himelhoch mentions that during this examination, your pediatric dentist can examine the teeth for any signs of decay or other problems and will show parents how to clean or brush the child’s teeth until they can take over that task on their own.

The ADA directs parents to care for their children’s teeth by:

  • Begin cleaning your baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth. As soon as teeth appear, decay can occur. A baby’s front four teeth usually push through the gums at about 6 months of age, although some children don’t have their first tooth until 12 or 14 months.
  • For children younger than 3 years, caregivers should begin brushing children’s teeth as soon as they begin to come into the mouth by using fluoride toothpaste in an amount no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice. Brush teeth thoroughly twice per day (morning and night) or as directed by a dentist or physician. Supervise children’s brushing to ensure that they use of the appropriate amount of toothpaste.
  • For children 3 to 6 years of age, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Brush teeth thoroughly twice per day (morning and night) or as directed by a dentist or physician. Supervise children’s brushing and remind them not to swallow the toothpaste.
  • Until you’re comfortable that your child can brush on his or her own, continue to brush your child’s teeth twice a day with a child-size toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. When your child has two teeth that touch, you should begin flossing their teeth daily.

If you’ve been looking for an experienced and professional pediatric dentist near Marlborough, MA, then your search is over! Dr. Deborah Himelhoch has all the know-how and expertise that you need in order to provide quality pediatric dental care for your child. If you have any questions, concerns, or would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Deborah Himelhoch at Smiles in Framingham, feel free to call: (508) 872-0555.

To all my wonderful patients and their families:


The greatest pleasures of my career are watching children grow strong and healthy and seeing smiles become more beautiful. It has been a tremendous privilege to be a part of that growth and transformation. Now, however, it is time for me to slow down and share the care of my patients.


Starting in September 2022, Smiles in Framingham will merge with Moynihan Dental Specialists. I will remain with the practice, but will reduce my hours and give up administrative responsibilities. The wonderful team of people you and I have come to rely on will be staying. They will continue to help care for you. There will also be new faces, new people who will get to know and care for and about you.


Dr. Michael Moynihan is a second generation dentist and orthodontist practicing in Framingham. Dr. Mike, as he is known, is on the faculty of Boston University in the department of orthodontics. We spent two years as teaching partners supervising the Boston University orthodontic residents as they treated special needs children at Franciscan Hospital for Children. It was during that time I came to appreciate both how skilled Dr. Mike is and how much he cares about his patients. I retired from teaching prior to the pandemic, but Dr. Mike still puts much of his time and energy into teaching the next generation of orthodontists.


I met Dr. Daniel Moynihan when he was my student in 2017. Even at that time he was one of my most conscientious students. He cares deeply about all of his patients and I am proud to be associated with him. Dr. Dan is highly skilled with all aspects of orthodontics, including treatment using Invisalign and other aligners.


Dr. Katherine Moynihan and Dr. Christine Chiao are other members of the Moynihan team. Dr. Katherine Moynihan finished her orthodontic training at Boston University in 2021. Dr. Christine Chiao is a pediatric dentist, who also teaches at the Boston University School of Dental Medicine.


Life is an adventure with many chapters, twists, and turns. I enter this chapter of my life looking forward to what comes next and feeling some sadness that this phase of my life is changing. For now, we will be keeping all appointments as scheduled. We will contact you individually about any appointment changes. All orthodontic contracts will be honored with care provided by the orthodontists. I have every confidence that the doctors of Moynihan Dental Specialists will provide you with excellent care for many years to come.


My very best wishes to all of you,


Dr. Deborah Himelhoch