When Should Children Start Seeing a Family Dentist?
Parents celebrate so many milestones during a baby's first couple of years, and many of them are focused on the baby's mouth: smiling, eating solid foods, and saying their first words. It is another cause for excitement and celebration when the baby's first teeth come in — but should this milestone signal a trip to the family dentist? Many experts say yes.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends taking your child to the dentist by the time he or she is one year old or soon after the first tooth erupts. The American Dental Association also supports a dental office visit in your child's first year.
While it is common for the first visit to occur later — often between the ages of two and three — an earlier appointment can treat certain problems before they become major headaches and set the stage for good oral health.
Why baby teeth need dental care
Many people dismiss the need for dental care at such a young age because baby teeth fall out. However, it is important to see a dentist starting around age one because it establishes good oral hygiene, prevents issues with tooth and gum development, and helps your child with certain milestones, such as brushing on their own and chewing properly.
Additionally, even very young children and toddlers can get dental caries — commonly referred to as cavities or tooth decay. When this happens to baby teeth, infection can spread and lead to more serious issues. Plus, with every year that passes, it becomes more difficult to treat and prevent future decay.
When issues with baby teeth are left untreated, your child can experience:
- Painful cavities that can spread to surrounding teeth and even to permanent teeth that have not yet erupted
- Infection, sometimes leading to the need for extraction
- Nutrition problems stemming from difficulty in chewing and eating
- Future tooth alignment problems
- School absences for extensive dental procedures
- Speech impediments
- Lack of self-confidence can occur due to missing teeth or tooth discoloration
What to expect at the family dentist
Before your little one sees the dentist, you can prepare him or her for the experience by taking the child along to your own cleaning visit. This allows you to demonstrate that it is no big deal and that the dentist makes you feel good about your smile.
At your son or daughter's first appointment, your family dentist will take extra care to put your child at ease. The dentist will take a look in your child's mouth and inspect the teeth and gums. Much like your own dental checkups, this appointment will include a gentle cleaning to remove bacteria and food particles in addition to an examination to look for possible signs of decay.
The dentist will also check to see how the mouth is shaped and the status of your child's bite. If your older baby or toddler is still using a pacifier, your dentist may make sure there are no negative effects on the alignment of the teeth. Finally, the dentist will review and demonstrate how to brush.
This first appointment — and subsequent ones — will be informative for you, too. The dentist can share a tooth eruption chart with you and explain what to expect in terms of future growth and loss of baby teeth. Note that this timeline is not the same for every baby, toddler, and child.
Take steps to ensure this first visit is a positive one for your child by eliminating potential distractions and issues. Schedule the appointment for a time that your child is well-rested and give your child a light meal and brush their teeth before the appointment so they are not hungry.
The waiting room should be a fun place. Play with toys, read a book, and engage with your child to make the visit lighthearted and fun. Avoid giving snacks in the waiting room to eliminate food particles on the teeth. If your child starts to show anxiety or becomes upset, work with the dentist and professionals in the office; they are usually quite skilled in calming distraught children!
Avoid delaying your child's dental treatment. This can lead to lifelong issues. Focus on making the visit to the dentist a fun, happy experience so your child has positive associations with the dentist's office. Starting early to establish a system of care and create a strong relationship with your family dentist can help to build good habits and prevent oral health problems later on.
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