Not all kids feel happy when they lose their first tooth

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

While you might assume that most kids are excited about losing their first tooth given it signals a visit from the tooth fairy, new research suggests that not all children find losing teeth a positive experience. 

Around one in five kids experience negative emotions such as fear when their first tooth falls out, with previous visits to the dentist affecting how they feel about the milestone.

"Our findings suggest that children deliberately process previous experiences concerning their teeth and integrate them in their emotional development," says lead author Moritz Daum, adding that where cavities are concerned, it's important for parents and dentists to communicate with care. "This way, emotions in connection with teeth and dentists can be put on the most positive trajectory possible," she said.

As part of the research, Ms Daum and her colleagues from the University of Zurich questioned a group of parents about their child's experience of losing their first tooth. A whopping 82 per cent reported that their kids experience positive emotions, with around one in five noting it was a negative experience for their little one.

But whether or not tooth loss was a cause for celebration or anxiety was related to a number of interesting factors. Kids who had previously visited the dentist for cavities were more likely to experience negative emotions, while those who visited the dentist after an accident were more likely to feel happy or proud.

Interestingly, an "extended duration of tooth wiggle" was also related to more positive emotions around losing teeth.

"It is clearly reassuring that for the overwhelming majority of the children the shedding of a milk tooth is associated with pride and joy," the authors write.

So why might previous cavity-related visits to the dentist be associated with negative feelings about losing a tooth, while accident-related appointments don't have the same effect?

"These past tooth‐related experiences might be associated with blame (of insufficient care), shame, or feelings of guilt," the authors note of dentist visits for fillings. "Earlier accident‐related visits, however, represent a potentially beneficial factor and increase the likelihood for positive emotions. In contrast to the previous dental trauma—an unexpected, abrupt, and painful experience which is often accompanied with a sense of loss of control and uncertainty—the gradual process of the anticipated shedding must be perceived as less sudden and painful."

It's also the reason why the authors believe that if a tooth is wobbly for longer, the feelings associated with its loss are more positive.  "The longer the period of anticipation, the greater the relief and pride," they write.