You bite into an apple and then try to start talking to your friend about yesterday’s math homework. Suddenly something feels funny — one of your baby teeth has fallen out! It’s been loose forever, and now there it is, right in your hand. And you have an empty space in your mouth big enough to poke a drinking straw through.
Before you put that tooth under your pillow, did you know that there is much more to that tooth than meets the eye? A single tooth has many different parts that make it work. And teeth play an important role in your daily life. They not only let you eat stuff like apples, they also help you talk. So let’s talk teeth!
Tiny Teeth: Unlike your heart or brain, your teeth weren’t ready to work from the day you were born. Although babies have the beginnings of their first teeth even before they are born, teeth don’t become visible until babies are about 6 to 12 months old.After that first tooth breaks through, more and more teeth begin to appear. Most kids have their first set of teeth by the time they are 3 years old. These are called the primary or baby teeth, and there are 20 in all. When a child gets to age 5 or 6, these teeth start falling out, one by one.A primary tooth falls out because it is being pushed out of the way by the permanent tooth that is behind it. Slowly, the permanent teeth grow in and take the place of the primary teeth. By about age 12 or 13, most kids have lost all of their baby teeth and have a full set of permanent teeth.There are 28 permanent teeth in all — eight more than the original set of baby teeth. Between the ages of 17 and 25, four more teeth called wisdom teeth usually grow in at the back of the mouth. They complete the adult set of 32 teeth.
Tooth Tour: Let’s take a tour of your teeth. Look in the mirror at your own teeth or check out a friend’s smile. The part of the tooth you can see, which is not covered by the gum (your gums are the pink, fleshy part), is called the crown. The crown of each tooth is covered with enamel (say: ih-NAM-ul), which is very hard and often shiny. Enamel is a very tough substance and it acts as a tooth’s personal bodyguard. Enamel works as a barrier, protecting the inside parts of the tooth.Dentin protects the innermost part of the tooth, called the pulp. The pulp is where each tooth’s nerve endings and blood supply are found. When you eat hot soup, bite into a super-cold scoop of ice cream, fall and hurt a tooth, or get a cavity, it’s your pulp that hurts. The nerve endings inside the pulp send messages to the brain about what’s going on (“That ice cream is too cold!”). The pulp also contains the tooth’s blood vessels, which feed the tooth and keep it alive and healthy.
Treating Teeth Kindly
Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste is your best bet when it comes to keeping your teeth in tip-top shape. Try to brush after eating or at least twice a day. It’s important to brush before bedtime.
The best way to brush your teeth is in little circles — go around and around until you have covered every surface of every tooth. Brush up and down, rather than side to side. You’ll also want to clean between your teeth with dental floss (a special string for cleaning your teeth) at least once a day. That removes food and plaque (sticky stuff that can cause cavities or gum disease) that get stuck in between your teeth. You can also brush your tongue to help keep your breath fresh!
It’s also important to visit your favorite tooth experts — your dentist and dental hygienist. During your appointment, they’ll look out for any problems and clean and polish your teeth. Sometimes the dentist will take X-rays to get a better picture of what is going on in your mouth. You also might get a fluoride treatment while you’re there.
In between dentist visits, you can prevent problems by eating fewer sugary snacks and sugary drinks, such as soda. Sugar can hurt your teeth and cause tooth decay, or cavities. But if you now, you’ll be chewing like a champ for the rest of your life!