When your child is born, you find a pediatrician. It may not occur to you that you should also find a dentist. But dental care for your infant or toddler is just as important for their health and development.
What Is the Best Age to Start Visiting the Dentist?
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry agree that the best time for a child’s first visit to a dentist is by age one. Primary teeth, also called baby teeth, usually start to come in at around six months of age.
The experts here at the Dental Health Society suggest using a developmental milestone instead of a specific age. They advise that your child’s first visit should be within six months of their first teeth erupting (coming through the gums).
Some dentists feel that it’s fine to wait longer, but only if the child has moved from a bottle to drinking from a cup, and does not drink anything overnight. But switching to drinking cups and solid foods is exactly when tooth decay can start setting in. This is another reason why our dentists recommend earlier action.
Still, it can take two years for all of a child’s baby teeth to come in. Permanent teeth won’t start to replace baby teeth until about age six. Over that time, sugary foods, fruit juices, soda, and even milk can settle on gums and baby teeth. For this reason, the first dental visit is usually recommended sooner rather than later.
Why Dental Visits are Necessary
Even with good oral hygiene at home, your child can benefit from visiting the dentist before all of his or her teeth come in. You may think that if you check your child’s teeth regularly, you will see evidence of a cavity if one pops up. But once a cavity is visible as a brown or white spot, or pit in your child’s tooth, it has already spread and will need to be fixed. Regular trips to the dentist can catch these issues before they become problematic.
In addition to discovering potential cavities, a dentist can help with other developmental issues. He can offer parents advice about teething, thumb sucking, and the importance of fluoride.
Concerns That Keep Parents from Scheduling a Dental Appointment
Parents may be tempted to wait until their child is older before they make their first appointment at the dentist. They may think their child isn’t capable of sitting still and following directions during the office visit. They might also think the child will be frightened.
But pediatric dentists and many family dentists are equipped to examine and treat very small children. Parents are often encouraged to participate in the appointment by holding the child so he or she will feel more at ease. The earlier your child becomes familiar with the dentist and the dental office environment, the less fearful they will be.
The goal is to make visiting the dentist something that isn’t scary or uncomfortable. If your child gets used to going to the dentist at a young age, chances are they won’t mind their dental appointments as they grow. The result will be good dental care throughout their life.
When you decide it is time to schedule your kid’s first dentist appointment, read more about how to prepare them.
Finding the Right Dentist
A first dental appointment is an important milestone for a child. It is important to find a dentist that makes both you and your child comfortable. Our article 5 Tips for Finding a Kid-Friendly Dentist will help. If your child is on the autism spectrum, you will want to take even more care in finding the best fit. Our article How to Find a Dentist for a Child Who is “On the Spectrum” for Autism will help guide you.
Rather than taking your child to your regular family dentist, you might feel that a pediatric dentist could be a better option. They are specialists in treating children and offer special accommodations to make little ones more comfortable. They Our articles Does My Kid Need a Pediatric Dentist? will help you decide if one is right for your family.
Are Baby Teeth Important?
You might think that your child’s baby teeth are not important, since they will eventually fall out. But baby teeth can get cavities just like permanent teeth. And those permanent teeth are developing underneath your baby’s teeth. Maintaining healthy baby teeth is vital for the overall dental health in the future.
Baby teeth are not just placeholders for the adult teeth that will come in later. They will also determine other aspects of your child’s development like chewing and talking. If they have trouble chewing their food or with their speech, it could indicate an issue with your child’s teeth or gums. Visiting a dentist will help you identify those issues.
Good Dental Health Begins with You
Even before your baby’s teeth erupt, the same bacteria that cause decay can settle on the gums. Parents should wipe their babies gums regularly using gauze or a soft cloth. Once that first tooth pops out, it is time to start brushing. You should clean your child’s new teeth at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush and a tiny amount of toothpaste. The amount should be about the size of a grain of rice.
Eventually your child will be old enough to hold the toothbrush to brush his or her own teeth. You should continue to supervise them to make sure they are brushing properly. The amount of toothpaste can be increased to the size of a pea.
Routine cleaning before and after teeth appear will get your child used to having someone touch and care for his mouth. This will go a long way to prepare your child for his first visit to the dentist.
Make the First Dental Appointment by the First Birthday
To give your child the best start on good dental health, you should not wait too long to schedule their first dentist appointment. When those first few teeth start to come in, it’s time to start planning that first visit.