Dr. Greg Jorgensen
(505) 891-9440
1401 Barbara Loop SE
Rio Rancho, NM 87124

The Jorgensen Orthodontics Blog

Does My Child Need To Have Baby Teeth Removed?

Posted by Dr. Jorgensen on December 15th, 2013

Pulling Baby TeethOne of the most common questions I get from parents in my office and on this blog is whether or not their child should have baby teeth removed. Most baby teeth (primary or “milk” teeth) fall out on their own. There are times however when having them removed by your dentist is not only necessary, but beneficial. Conversely, there are times when you should not have baby teeth removed. While I cannot diagnose your child’s problems online, here are some general guidelines to help you understand when removing primary teeth is appropriate.
For a detailed explanation of when baby teeth normally fall out on their own, please refer to my article http://www.gregjorgensen.com/blog/2012/06/at-what-age-do-baby-teeth-normally-fall-out/. That article explains that although there can be variations from normal, there are certain patterns that most children follow in the loss of their primary teeth. The first step in any examination of children in my office is to take inventory of how many primary and permanent teeth they have. If they have more than they should for their age, my list of possible causes includes the following: an overall developmental delay, crowding, and impacted or missing permanent teeth. Before I offer an opinion however, I always look at a radiograph.

If the loss of primary teeth is slow but in the right sequence, I generally don’t worry until a child is two years behind. If the primary teeth “hang around” too long they can adversely affect the eruption path of the underlying permanent ones. For example, if a lower primary canine is still in place at age 10 or 11 (normally lost at 9), I’m not too concerned. I will probably recommend that it be removed at age 12 however. Another milestone that I consider is the eruption of the permanent second molars. Once they are in, any remaining primary teeth need to go.

There are other orthodontic reasons for removing primary teeth besides falling behind schedule. An obvious one is when a permanent tooth starts to come in adjacent to a primary one that isn’t loose. This commonly happens in the lower anterior when a permanent incisor erupts behind a primary one or in the upper canine area when a permanent canine erupts in front of the baby one (a “fang”). Removing the primary teeth in these instances is necessary but it does NOT correct the crowding that created the problem. It is important to realize that pulling BABY teeth never corrects crowding. It only “kicks the can down the road.” Eventually there will have to be expansion or extraction of permanent teeth if the final result is to be uncrowded.

Another time when primary teeth need to be removed is when doing so will change the eruption path of the associated permanent teeth. This is commonly done in the area of the upper canines and all second bicuspids. CBCT scans (3D x–rays) are excellent for helping me determine when removing primary teeth will help permanent ones come in better. Removing primary teeth at the right time can possibly save patients from more complicated treatment or even prevent surgery down the road.

Sometimes primary teeth must be removed by your dentist for other reasons (infection, trauma, etc.). When this happens, it is important that the space be maintained until the underlying permanent teeth are in place. If a “space maintainer” is not placed immediately and the adjacent teeth shift into the vacated area, the eruption of the corresponding permanent teeth may be affected or prevented.

Lastly, there are times when it is better to not remove primary teeth. Primary teeth should be restored and maintained if possible until the underlying permanent ones are ready to come in since they preserve the needed space. If the corresponding permanent teeth are missing however, you and your orthodontist will need to determine how to deal with the situation. If he or she decides that the space will eventually be closed, early removal of the primary tooth might be helpful. If you are going to eventually replace the missing permanent tooth with an implant, it may be best to preserve the primary one as long as possible to preserve the space and keep the surrounding gums and bone healthy.

As you can see, primary teeth serve an important function in the development of the permanent smile. Every child is unique and the decision whether or not to have primary teeth removed is one that you and your local orthodontist will have to make together.

NOTE: The author, Dr. Greg Jorgensen, is a board-certified orthodontist who is in the private practice of orthodontics in Rio Rancho, New Mexico (a suburb on the westside of Albuquerque). He was trained at BYU, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Iowa in the United States. Dr. Jorgensen’s 25 years of specialty practice and 10,000 finished cases qualify him an expert in two-phase treatment, extraction and non-extraction therapy, functional orthodontics, clear aligners (Invisalign), and multiple bracket systems (including conventional braces, Damon and other self-ligating brackets, Suresmile, and lingual braces). This blog for informational purposes only and is designed to help consumers understand currently accepted orthodontic concepts. It is not a venue for debating alternative treatment theories. Dr. Jorgensen is licensed to diagnose and treat patients only in the state of New Mexico. He cannot diagnose cases described in comments nor can he select treatment plans for readers. Because he has over 25,000 readers each month, it is impossible for him respond to all questions. Please read all of the comments associated with each article as most of the questions he receives each week have been asked and answered previously. The opinions expressed here are protected by copyright laws and can only be used with written permission from the author.

354 comments so far in response to “Does My Child Need To Have Baby Teeth Removed?”

  1. Shavonne says:

    My 6y/o daughter had her bottom front teeth pulled because her permanent teeth grew behind them (shark teeth). Her permanent teeth are moving forward and beginning to push the other baby teeth forward into her bottom lip. The permanent teeth are also beginning to shift and overlap due to lack of room. What should we do?

    • You should return to the dentist who removed the baby teeth. He should be following the progress of the dental development. Only your local dentist can advise you as to your daughter’s treatment.

  2. Niamh says:

    Hi, My daught has just has her front baby tooth removed as her new front tooth gre behind.m It is pretty much fully grown at this stage and the Ortho says that she may need some elastic type items to now pull the adult tooth forward. What does this involve and will it work? How soon can a child get braces?

    • The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children be seen starting at 7. It is rare that a child would need treatment before that. As for the technique an orthodontist will use for a specific child, that is a questions for their specific doctor.

  3. William says:

    Hi, I’m 18 years old and I have a brother who’s currently 14. When he was about 6, he had all his teeth removed because he had a lot of cavities. It was an extreme decision by my father who at the time, was poor. Was this surgery even legal?

    I’m starting to be concerned. His facial shape is quite different from all my other brothers and me (2 brothers and me, 3 in total.) His current teeth is also very peculiar, resembling a very young child’s mouth because it has so many gaps and missing teeth. I would have thought his adult teeth would have erupted by now.

    What should I do? I may not be able to go to the dentist for a consultation for possibly another year so in the mean time, any advice would be very helpful! Thanks heaps.

    • Sometimes removing teeth due to extreme amounts of decay is the only option available. Dental abscesses are still causing sickness and death in third-world, underdeveloped countries. I can’t comment on your brother’s case. It sounds like he needs to be evaluated in person by an orthodontist.

  4. Brandy says:

    My 5 year old daughters two front bottom baby teeth fell out. The one permanent tooth came though behind the baby tooth beside where its supposed to go, then moved in the right place. Now, her other permanent tooth is starting to poke though but there is no room for it to go. The dentist said she has a cramped mouth and we have two options, either let it go, or to remove the two baby teeth beside where the permanent teeth are coming though. What is actually better? I would think if we let it go that the permanent teeth would turn out crooked…

    • I can’t diagnose your daughter’s case remotely. In my mind it is too early to do anything but remove baby teeth, and then only the front four. She still has some growth remaining up until age 7 or 8, so don’t panic yet.

  5. Linda says:

    My 9 year son has to bottom front baby teeth that have not fallen out. In the meaintime, the 2 adult teeth have grown in behind them. As a result the adult teeth are pushed back.
    He has been seeing an orthordontist for about 2 years, who hasn’t really done anything, and he says not to pull them out as it will stunt the growth of his jaw.
    He had similar problem with the top front teeth, and we had the baby ones removed from the top which helped the adult teeth grow in quite straight.
    Should he have the bottom baby teeth removed?

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