English baby Isla-Rose Heasman was just 12 days old when she and her mom, Jasmin, walked into the Seven Trees Dental Access Centre on August 3, 2018. The center had never seen a younger patient. So why was a newborn in need of a dentist? Isla-Rose was born with a single tiny tooth poking up from the gums in her lower jaw, a phenomenon called a ‘natal tooth’.
While it’s a rare occurrence, babies being born with a tooth or multiple teeth is not unheard of. Famous columnist Dear Abby and her twin sister were both born with one and two teeth, respectively. When the twin sister (also a famous columnist writing under the pseudonym Ann Landers), put out a call to the public for natal teeth stories in 1987, she was quite shocked to receive over 42,000 responses. According to Ann Landers, around 80% respondents were born with two teeth, and 17% were born with one like Isla-Rose. Surprisingly, a decent amount of people reported being born with as many as four teeth!
Modern estimates are that natal teeth occur in around 1 in 2,500 births, and there are indications that the condition is genetic. An estimated 15% of babies born with natal teeth also had close relatives like parents or siblings who were born with natal teeth. Natal teeth are not inherently dangerous or a sign of an underlying medical condition, they’re just baby teeth that happened to erupt early, somewhat baffling pediatricians.
Unfortunately, Isla-Rose’s tiny natal tooth had to be gently pulled out by a dentist at the Seven Trees with the help of some numbing cream on her gums. Natal teeth typically have a very week root anchoring them in the baby’s gums, making them prone to rot. The tooth can come out easily on its own, posing a choking hazard to the baby. Natal teeth can also cause issues breastfeeding and small cuts on the baby’s tongue and lips. For all these reasons, pediatric dentists and parents often choose to gently, non-invasively remove the natal tooth. The child will have a little gap there until their adult permanent tooth comes in later.
If the tooth DOES remain, parents can take the same steps to care for the tooth that they would take when the baby’s teeth would normally start coming in at 4-6 months of age. Gentle wiping with a washcloth is the recommended practice before transitioning to a baby or toddler-sized toothbrush as they grow.
Although it was a little stressful for baby Isla-Rose’s mum to watch her have a dental procedure so young, some cultures think natal teeth can be a sign that the child is lucky or destined for great things. We’ll have to see what Isla-Rose thinks of that when she’s grown.