A healthy dental routine in childhood can create a lifelong foundation for good oral health. However, many parents ask the question: when should a child first see the dentist?
For parents and guardians thinking about scheduling a baby’s first dental appointment, it’s important for everyone involved to know how to prepare and what to expect from a pediatric dentist visit.
When Should a Child First See the Dentist?
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), parents should schedule their child’s first dentist visit by age one. Children’s Dental FunZone likes to say “first birthday, first visit.” In some children, teething occurs at a younger age. In such cases, children should visit the dentist within six months of the first tooth appearing.
The Importance of Primary Teeth
All too often, parents put off taking their child to the dentist until after age two. Many people are under the misconception that primary teeth, or baby teeth, aren’t as important as permanent adult teeth.
Primary teeth are more important in early childhood development than people might realize. They’re a crucial part of making the switch from liquid to solid food as a baby, allowing children to develop the nutritional habits that they need to grow strong.
Healthy baby teeth are also involved in speech development, allowing children to master language more quickly and effectively. Young children with healthy primary teeth also tend to feel better about the way they look and maintain a high sense of self-esteem.
Without healthy baby teeth, children are more prone to having issues when their permanent teeth develop. Baby’s first teeth act as space savers for larger adult teeth, preventing crowding and the need for expensive orthodontics.
How to Prepare for Your Child’s First Visit to the Dentist?
Once parents have asked, “When should a child see a dentist,” many then wonder how to prepare for the first visit.
Preparing a child for their first dental visit ahead of time can help to keep them calm on the big day. Doing this makes it easier for the dentist to work and creates a more pleasant experience for everybody involved. There are several ways that parents can prepare their children for their first dental visit:
- Take them along to a parent’s or sibling’s dental appointment to observe
- Children’s Dental FunZone provides virtual tours of all our locations to take a sneak peak
- Read books and child-friendly online media about dental health and office visits
- Watch Children’s Dental FunZone’s dental presentation video to get them interested
- Take turns playing dentist with your child, and practice “opening wide” to count teeth
- Ensure that your child is fed, hydrated, and well-rested before their appointment
What You Should NOT Do Before Your Child’s First Visit
It’s important to leave children with a positive impression of the dentist both before and after their first visit. Doing so will encourage good behavior and future appointments and can help to promote better dental health.
Before your baby’s first dental appointment, there are certain common mistakes that parents can make:
- Bribing children to go to appointments with toys or candy will only encourage resistance in the future.
- Telling children to be brave may leave them feeling as though they’re cowardly for being nervous.
- Using the dentist as a threat or punishment will lead to fear and resentment during visits.
- Telling children that dental work will hurt can make them nervous, while denying it will hurt at all creates unrealistic expectations.
- Parental anxiety at the dentist can quickly rub off on a child.
How to Prepare Your Dentist?
Parents should be ready to give a child’s dentist a complete overview of their health history. It may be good to have important documents such as vaccination and medical records on hand for the first visit.
Pediatric dentists should also be aware of a child’s behavioral tendencies. If a child is prone to anger, stubbornness, or biting, parents must tell the dentist upfront. It can also be helpful for parents to be present during the exam to help the dentist minimize stress during the visit.
What to Expect During the Visit?
For most babies and toddlers, their first dentist visit proceeds much like an adult visit would. First, a hygenist examines and cleans the teeth. They may also demonstrate proper cleaning techniques and recommend the best products for young mouths.
Once the hygienist finishes, the dentist will perform a quick examination. They’ll closely examine your baby’s teeth, gums, and jaw, looking for signs of irregular development or decay. The dentist will then explain any health concerns and work with parents to draw up a treatment plan.
Tips for a Great Visit
One of the best ways to ease a child’s fears about an office visit is to make the dentist fun. There are several ways that parents can get kids excited for their first dental appointment:
- Take a tour of the office and allow the dentist to explain different tools and equipment
- Bring toys and books as a distraction in the waiting room
- Allow kids to dress up in a special outfit or costume of their choosing
- Make the car rides to the office and back enjoyable
Tips to Protect Your Child’s Teeth at Home
It’s important for parents to ask the question: at what age should a child go to the dentist?
However, it’s equally important for parents and guardians to take care of oral health in the home. There are plenty of things that parents can do to help protect their children’s teeth between dental visits:
- Clean gums with a damp cloth before teething
- Use just a tiny, rice-sized amount of toothpaste before children are old enough to spit
- Swap to a pea-sized dab around age three
- Don’t bottle-feed before naps or bedtime, and ensure the bottle is empty in under six minutes
- Supervise brushing sessions until children are old enough to be left alone, around age seven or eight
- Limit access to sugary foods and drinks
Many parents with babies and young toddlers ask the question: when should a child first see the dentist?
Visiting a pediatric dentist from an early age can help to teach children about oral health while keeping primary teeth clean and healthy. However, it’s up to parents to reinforce a healthy dental routine. With the right encouragement, children can build a lifelong foundation for a healthy smile.