Should I Worry About My Child’s “Shark Teeth”?

Sometimes baby teeth are just so darn stubborn! Those sweet little teeth don’t want to move out of the way to make room for their permanent counterparts and your child winds up with what is often called “shark teeth”, a second row of permanent teeth behind the baby teeth.

This usually occurs on the bottom center of the mouth, right behind the first teeth that likely erupted when your child was about 6-months-old.

The eruption of “shark teeth” really alarms parents. Most begin to worry about extraction as well as an early need for braces or other orthodontic devices. But there’s really not a lot to be concerned about. Shark teeth are more common than you might expect and usually not a huge problem to conquer.

What should I do?

If you or your child has spied some shark teeth peeking through, you’ve probably already picked up your phone and called your mom, a helpful friend, or maybe even your pediatric dentist (We hope it’s the latter!) to exclaim your fears and ask what to do.

But if you haven’t, it’s important to recognize that there’s likely no need to worry. This phenomenon happens to a lot of 5-7 year-olds, and in most cases, this situation resolves on its own and the explanation as to why it happens is simple to understand.

Known among dentists as “ectopic eruption”, the appearance of permanent teeth while the baby teeth are still in place occurs when those permanent teeth do not dissolve the roots of the baby teeth as they are coming up through the gums. As a result, the baby teeth might not get loose, or they do get loose but haven’t fallen out yet.

Most of the time, however, the baby teeth will indeed get very lose shortly after those other teeth appear behind them and they’ll soon fall out. And in case you’re worried about the placement of those permanent teeth, which erupted rather far back and out of line with the other teeth, don’t be concerned. Usually the tongue works to automatically move them forward without any help from your child’s dentist.

Shark teeth that need a little help

However, on some occasions, those tiny teeth just won’t get out of the way and your pediatric dentist may become concerned about that. A good rule of thumb and a sign for further action is when the permanent teeth have almost reached the same height as the baby teeth.

At that point, the baby teeth should be removed by your dentist because the permanent ones now have limited mobility and will be less likely to move forward when the baby teeth are removed or fall out.

In addition, if the area around the baby teeth becomes inflamed or sore because the child is avoiding brushing those loose teeth, your dentist might decide it’s time for the baby teeth to come out.

If shark teeth appear behind the upper baby teeth, most pediatric dentists agree that the baby teeth in front of them should be removed immediately. This is because the tongue won’t be pushing those upper teeth forward and your child will end up with front teeth that are misaligned.

Extractions of baby teeth

Usually, it’s very easy for a dentist to remove the baby teeth that are impeding the complete eruption of the permanent teeth. Most often than not, they are already lose, which certainly makes the job easier for all involved.

If your pediatric dentist determines that the baby teeth need to be removed, he or she will do everything possible to make your child comfortable before, during, and after the procedure, and will take the time to explain all the details to you as well. Afterwards, recovery should be quite quick and there should be few, if any, limitations for your child.

Dr. Easte Warnick DDS

Dr. Easte Warnick received a degree in Geology from the University of Nevada Las Vegas in 2001. After working as a geologist for Los Alamos National Laboratory and Bechtel SAIC, she returned to school and completed dental training at the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in 2012.

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