Children’s feelings are predominantly positive when they lose their first baby tooth, new Swiss research has found.
The study—published recently in the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry—also reveals that previous visits to the dentist as well as parental background and level of education affect how children experience the loss of their first tooth.
Children generally lose their first baby tooth when they’re about six years old. The tooth comes loose and eventually falls out, leaving a gap which is then permanently filled by its replacement tooth. This gradual process is probably one of the first biological changes to their body a child experiences consciously. The emotions that accompany this milestone are extremely varied, ranging from joy at having finally joined the world of grown-ups to fear about the loss of a body part.
An interdisciplinary team of dental researchers and developmental and health psychologists at the University of Zurich, in cooperation with the City of Zurich’s School Dental Services, has now examined the feelings that children experience when they lose their first baby tooth, and which factors are at play.
The scientists surveyed parents of children who had already lost at least one of their milk teeth. Of the nearly 1,300 responses received for the study, around 80 per cent of parents reported positive feelings, while only 20 per cent told of negative emotions.
The researchers found that previous visits to the dentist played a role when it came to children’s feelings. Children whose previous visits were cavity-related and thus perhaps associated with shame or guilt experienced fewer positive emotions when they later lost their first baby tooth. If, however, previous dental appointments were the result of an accident, then the loss of the first milk tooth was more likely to be associated with positive emotions.
According to dental researcher Raphael Patcas, one possible explanation for this is that baby teeth loosen gradually before falling out—a process that, unlike an accident, unfolds slowly and predictably.
This is also supported by the fact that children who experience the loosening of their tooth over an extended period of time tend to have more positive feelings. The longer the preparation and waiting time, the greater the relief and pride when the tooth finally falls out.
Moreover, the study also found that socio-demographic factors are related to children’s feelings. For example, children were more likely to have positive feelings such as pride or joy if the parents had a higher level of education and came from non-Western countries. The researchers said cultural differences could be at play here, for example, transitioning rituals that accompany the loss of the first baby tooth.