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When a baby tooth starts wiggling, your kid is probably fixated on it. But should you nag your child to leave it alone until it falls out on its own? Or is it better to take matters into your own hands and yank baby teeth out?

“If your kid’s playing with it with his or her tongue, or using his or her hands to wiggle a loose tooth, it’s totally fine as long as their hands are clean,” says Jessica Lee, PhD, president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of North Carolina.

Typically, most kids start to lose their baby teeth between ages 6 and 9 and continue to lose them until around age 12 or 13. “That’s why cavities in baby teeth must be treated,” says Yasmi O. Crystal, clinical professor of pediatric dentistry at NYU College of Dentistry who also has a private practice at Comprehensive Pediatric Dentistry in Bound Brook. “Your child shouldn’t have decay present for years.”

A loose baby tooth may fall out after a matter of days or even a few months. If it’s hanging on, make sure your child is still brushing thoroughly—especially if he or she is squeamish and wants to avoid the area. “When the baby tooth roots dissolve as the new tooth is coming in, a lot of debris can hide. That area becomes a plaque magnet, and gum tissue can get infected and bleed,” says Crystal.

Sometimes, a new tooth doesn’t fit in the space of the old tooth. That might occur if a child’s permanent teeth are large and his or her mouth is small (genetics!). If a baby tooth isn’t loose, but the the new permanent tooth is trying to come in behind it in a second row, call your dentist to assess the issue, says Crystal.

If you’re worried about your child swallowing a dangling tooth, yes, it does happen—especially when eating hard food such as a bagel or apple. But it’s not something to fret about; it’ll pass through the GI tract with no problems. The toughest thing for your child will be his or her sadness about missing a visit from the Tooth Fairy. If a loose tooth is being stubborn and really bothering your child (or you), grasp it with a clean tissue and wiggle and tug gently, says Lee.

 

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