The Whole Tooth

A long wait

So when will the first tooth make its debut?

The event could happen around the same time that my son's arrived, at about 6 months. But it varies from kid to kid. I have a friend who fretted over her daughter's gummy mouth, only to have her pediatrician quip at the baby's 1-year checkup, "How many people do you know who never got any teeth?" Four months later, her first tooth finally broke through.

As that initial baby tooth gets close to coming in, the gum above it might become swollen and start to tighten and get whitish. This is when your baby may let you know that something big is getting ready to take place. Perhaps a day or even weeks later, the first tooth will appear. Its roots will keep growing for another entire year, and 19 more teeth will complete the same process at their own pace until your child has a mouthful of them.

Which tooth will it be?

You'll probably first see a front bottom tooth (central incisor). "But the symmetry of primary teeth is what's most important—they should come in in pairs, one after the other," says Parents advisor Burton Edelstein, D.D.S., M.P.H., chair of social and behavioral sciences at Columbia University's College of Dental Medicine, in New York City. So it's fine if your baby first sprouts an incisor on the side. Just keep a lookout for its mate on the opposite side of the mouth, says Dr. Edelstein. If it doesn't show up within a few months, check in with your pediatric dentist or pediatrician to rule out other problems, such as an extra tooth or even a growth—both of which are, thankfully, rare.

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