One of the most frequently asked questions I hear is “When should I take my child for their first dental visit?” Unfortunately, none of us are given much dental advice except what we read in “What to Expect the First Year” where it tells you to wipe your baby’s first tooth with a wet cloth. Going to the dentist in not only important for your child, it is essential for you to be educated on how to properly maintain your child’s teeth.
When should I take my child for their first visit?
Your child should visit a dentist by their first birthday, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Early examination and preventive care along with parent education will protect your child’s smile now and in the future. If you have not taken your child to the dentist yet, it is never too late! Most dentists will like to see your child every six months to treat any problems promptly, to monitor their growth and development, and to build their confidence in visiting the dentist.
What Happens at the First Dental Visit?
The first dental visit is a chance for your child to get to know the dentist and the practice in a comfortable way. It is usually short and involves very little treatment. You may be asked to hold your child in the dental chair or on your lap during the examination. You may also be asked to wait in the reception area during part of the visit so that your child can build up trust with the dentist and staff. Do not be surprised if your child cries during the visit- it is very common and the dental staff is trained to handle however your child is feeling at the appointment.
If your child is willing, the dentist will thoroughly examine your child's teeth, gums, oral tissues, jaw and bite for development and assess any possible problem areas. If needed, the dentist or hygienist will gently clean any teeth with tartar or stain and assess the need for fluoride. He or she will also educate parents about oral health care basics for children and discuss dental developmental issues and answer any questions. X-rays may be taken to check for cavities or to see if missing teeth are present under the gums.
Some topics your dentist may review with you include:
Why is the first visit so early? My child barely has any teeth!
The reason to go early is to prevent early problems and to educate you, the parent on proper care for your child’s teeth. One large concern is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay which can be caused by a baby being put to sleep with a bottle at night. It is much easier to teach your child at a young age how to have lifelong good oral care habits than when they are a willful toddler who has their own ideas about how to take care of their teeth. By starting them early, you will avoid many of the problems parents face with trying to correct habits that can be difficult to change.
How can I prepare my child for their first visit?
Talk to them about what to expect, and try to build their excitement about their visit. Try not to use too many technical terms- the dental team may use child friendly words such as “tooth counter”, “straw” (for suction) and “tooth tickler” (for the polisher). Reading a book about going to the dentist can be helpful for some children. Some good books are Dora Visits the Dentist and Green Puppy Goes to the Dentist. Or you can practice draping a towel around your neck and using a mirror so your child can look in your mouth then switch roles. If you have an older child, you can let your younger one watch them at their appointment. Don’t forget to bring your camera to record this big step for your child!