We all start out with a set of baby teeth, which eventually fall out, only to be replaced by our adult teeth. From childhood to adulthood, our teeth help us to chew, talk and smile — but what is the difference between permanent teeth and baby teeth? There are plenty of ways to tell them apart. Explore how to tell the difference between a baby tooth and a permanent tooth, from their size to their function.

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One of the easiest ways to differentiate between the adult and baby teeth is how many there are. Children have 20 baby teeth, and they typically start to erupt at around 6 months old. These include four central incisors, four lateral incisors and four canine teeth, as well as eight molars. Adults have 32 permanent teeth.

Size and Shape

Are baby teeth smaller than permanent teeth? Generally, yes! Starting with the incisors, baby teeth have flatter biting edges and are typically smaller and more square-shaped. Adult incisors have more rounded biting edges and also erupt with three little ridges on the biting edge. These ridges are called mamelons. Mamelons make it easier for the tooth to break through the gums as it erupt. As for the molars, adult molars tend to have deeper grooves and valleys along the chewing surface. Baby teeth have less notable grooves that are much more shallow.


Permanent teeth are tougher and more durable than baby teeth. This is largely due to the fact that permanent teeth have a thicker layer of enamel, which makes them more resistant to decay and cavities. Because baby teeth are softer and have thinner enamel, they are more susceptible to breakdown from contact with acids and bacteria.

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Baby teeth are typically whiter than permanent teeth. This may seem noticeable if your child has adult teeth erupting next to baby teeth, but this coloring will look natural once all the baby teeth have fallen out.


Finally, baby teeth and adult teeth have very different purposes. While they perform the same day-to-day functions of chewing your food and allowing you to vocalize clearly, they have more subtle roles to play as well. One common question people wonder is whether or not baby teeth affect permanent teeth. The answer is a resounding yes. Baby teeth essentially act as a placeholder, maintaining the correct spacing in your jaw so that your adult teeth will have room to erupt into the correct positions. Once your adult teeth have moved into position below the gumline and are ready to erupt, the roots of the baby teeth will gradually disintegrate, and the tooth will eventually fall out.

This is why the early loss of a baby tooth can cause dental placement issues down the road. Sometimes, an injury or impact can knock out a tooth before it’s ready to fall out. In this case, your dentist may put a dental space maintainer in place to protect that spot until the adult tooth grows in.

Permanent teeth, of course, have their own important purpose. These stronger, harder, bigger teeth keep your mouth functioning properly. With dedicated cleaning and care, they should last you the rest of your life.

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Want to take the next step in keeping your teeth healthy and your smile bright? Reach out to Fox Kids Dentistry & Orthodontics today to schedule an appointment.

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This blog serves to provide general information about dentistry topics to help answer your questions. The above content is for informational purposes but is not intended to be a replacement for medical advice from a licensed pediatrician or pediatric dentist. If you have a dental concern for yourself, your child or another adult, please schedule a consultation with us so you can speak with a dentist.

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