New parents often ask, "When should my child first see a dentist?"
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry believes it is best to have the first visit around the first birthday. Pediatricians also agree that your child should be seen within 6 months of the first tooth appearing. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that children who are at high risk of early childhood cavities visit a dentist by their first birthday.
The idea of such early dental visits is still surprising to many new parents. However, national studies have shown that preschool-aged children are getting more cavities. More than 1 in 4 children in the United States has had at least one cavity by the age of 4. Many kids get cavities as early as age 2.
To prevent early childhood cavities, parents first have to find out their child's risk of developing cavities. They also need to learn how to manage diet, hygiene and fluoride to prevent problems.
Some dental problems begin as early as infancy. A huge concern is baby bottle tooth decay, a very serious condition caused by a child staying on the bottle (or breast) too long and not brushing the child’s teeth after feedings. Another problem is pediatric gum disease. About 40% of children 2-3 years old have, at least, mild inflammation of gum tissues. Oral habits (such as thumb-sucking or tongue thrusting) should also be checked. The sooner the dental visit happens, the better the chances of preventing future problems. Strong, healthy teeth help your child chew food easily and properly, speak clearly and feel good about his or her appearance.
But cavities aren't all that parents need to learn about their child's dental health. The dental visits let parents discuss:
- How to care for an infant's or toddler's mouth
- Proper use of fluoride
- Oral habits, including finger and thumb sucking
- Ways to prevent accidents that could damage the face and teeth
- Teething and milestones of development
- The link between diet and oral health
After this first visit, the dentist will suggest a schedule of follow-up visits. In the past, dentists typically called for visits every six months. Now, the schedule may vary according to each child's needs and risks. As your child grows, the dental team can help you learn how to prevent common oral problems. Once your child becomes older, they may need to have braces. In this case, your child will need much more frequent cleanings.
Preparing for your child’s first Dental Visit
At Dentistry for Life, we believe the purpose of any dental visit, but especially the first one, is to learn about your child's oral health and how to best care for your child's unique needs before any problems occur. Many dental problems can be prevented or more easily treated in the early stages. It's important you trust and feel comfortable in our office. At this first visit, you should get your questions answered and your child should start to build a relationship with Dr. Dave’.
The best way to prepare for this visit is to consider what you want to know, what you want to look for and what you should expect.
Be prepared to ask about any concerns you may have:
- Tell you how to reach the office in case of an accident or dental emergency
- Give specific advice about regular follow-up care
- Tell you about what will happen next in your child's oral development
- Help you to guard and promote your child's oral health
Please be prepared that your child may fuss during parts or all of the dental visit. However, parents may be surprised at how accepting infants can be when the dentist examines them. They may enjoy the attention and novelty of the visit.
If possible, ask another adult to come with you. It's best if this is someone who helps to care for your child. You want to be free to talk comfortably with the dentist or hygienist and to focus attention on your child. For this reason, it is best not to bring other children along at this first visit. Bring an extra diaper and snack for your child. Also bring a favorite toy, blanket or other familiar object. This will help your child to know that the dental office is a comfortable and safe place.
To save time and make the first visit easier, Dentistry for Life has all the forms you will need to fill out available online to download and bring with you. The forms may offer the chance to list questions or concerns that you want to discuss at the visit.
What To Expect at the Office
The first dental visit is similar to a well-baby check at the physician's office.
At the visit, you should expect Dr. Dave’ or the hygienist to:
- Review your child's medical and dental history
- Respond to your questions and concerns
- Talk with you about your child's overall oral health, including:
- Bite (how your child's teeth will come together)
- Soft tissues such as gums and cheeks
- Oral habits such as sucking thumbs/fingers or thrusting tongues
- Factors that affect the risk of cavities, such as diet, hygiene practices, fluoride use and whether others in the family have had cavities
- How to prevent trauma to your child's mouth
To thoroughly examine your child's mouth, Dr. Dave’ may recommend that you sit in the dental chair with your child in your lap. While your child sits on your lap, we may then lay the chair back a little or all the way, depending on your child's needs and comfort level. Dr. Dave’ or our hygienist will then:
- Show how to clean your child's teeth and give you a chance to practice
- Give specific advice about home care, including hygiene, diet and use of toothpaste and other fluorides
- Tell you what to expect as your child grows and develops in the coming months
- Suggest a schedule for follow-up care
Dr. Dave’ or our hygienist may also clean your child's teeth. This is likely to occur if your child's teeth have a stain that commonly appears in infants. The dentist or hygienist also may apply fluoride, particularly if your child has a higher than average risk of developing cavities. These tasks will all be based on how comfortable your child is at the visit.
Before leaving the office, you should have a clear idea about:
- Your child's development
- Your responsibilities
- Follow-up care by the dentist
- Your child's likelihood of having problems with cavities or bite
You should have all of your questions answered. You also should know what you and the dentist can do together to make sure your child has excellent oral health.
Children's oral care
Take good care of your child's baby teeth. They do eventually fall out but until they do, baby teeth play an important role in helping with proper chewing and eating, help in speech development and add to an attractive appearance. A child who can chew easily, speak clearly and smile confidently is a happier child. Healthy primary teeth allow normal development of the jaw bones and muscles, save space for the permanent teeth and guide them into place. If a baby tooth is lost too soon, permanent teeth may come in crooked. Decayed baby teeth can cause pain, abscesses or infections, and can spread to the permanent teeth. Also, your child’s general health can be affected if diseased baby teeth aren’t treated. Remember, some primary molars are not replaced until age 10-14, so they must last for years. Many of the same treatment and evaluation options that adults have are also available to kids. These include X-rays, dental sealants, orthodontic treatment and more.
What to Expect During Childhood
- Wiggly teeth ~ When a child is about 6 years old, his/her teeth will begin to come loose. Let your child wiggle the tooth until it falls out on its own. This will minimize the pain and bleeding associate with a lost tooth.
- Growth patterns ~ Each child grows and develops at a different rate, however there are patterns to look for when it comes to when your childs teeth typically erupt. See Chart for typical growth rate. (Click here for downloadable chart that can be edited for your memories or feel free to contact our team and we can email it to you!)
- Cavities ~ Cavities can develop when sugar-containing foods are allowed to stay in the mouth for a long time. Bacteria that live on the teeth feast on these bits of food and can eat away at tooth enamel. Saliva washes away the acid between meals, but if your child is always eating, there may not be time for this acid to get washed away.
When should I use toothpaste and floss for my child?
Brushing and flossing
Begin using toothpaste to brush your child's teeth when he (or she) is 2 years old. Young children tend to swallow toothpaste when brushing, rather than spitting it out. Introduce fluoride toothpaste when your child is old enough not to swallow it. As soon as two teeth touch each other, floss between them once a day. You can use regular floss or special plastic floss holders.
Click the tooth to download our fun coloring book to share and teach your child about their teeth!