If you’ve noticed a bigger emphasis on dental health over the last few years, you aren’t alone. While just a decade ago, children may not have visited a dentist for the first time until age 3 or 4, pediatricians and dentists now recommend a first dental visit by age 1.
Oral health is vital to overall physical health. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists tooth decay as the most common chronic childhood disease and cautions that untreated cavities and gum disease can lead to infection and more serious conditions, such as diabetes and respiratory diseases.
That’s why today’s dentists want to see kids when their first teeth erupt, to teach parents early on how to care for a young child’s tiny new teeth and to ensure that those primary teeth are as healthy as possible.
For parents, therefore, finding a dentist who understands kids and can offer a reassuring, nurturing environment has become much more important.
The Massachusetts Dental Society (MDS) calls this environment a “dental home,” a place where comprehensive, continuous oral care is delivered by a licensed dentist to infants, children, young adults and those with special needs.
Children’s first teeth usually begin to come in between ages 6 months and 1 year. Schedule that first dental appointment within six months of the eruption of the first tooth, and no later than your child’s first birthday, say health experts with the MDS, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Regular dental visits that start at an early age help kids (and their parents) learn preventative oral health practices and develop a trusting, ongoing relationship with a dental practice.
Consider that “age 1” visit to the dentist the same way you would a “well-child visit” to the pediatrician. Your dentist will look carefully at your baby’s primary teeth, which help children speak and chew and serve as space holders for the permanent teeth developing below the gums.
At the very first dental appointment, a dentist will usually examine your child’s mouth, teeth and gums. Small children will be allowed to sit on their parent’s lap during the exam – often called a “knee-to-knee” exam, since the dentist and parent sit knee-to-knee with the child on the parent’s lap. The dentist will demonstrate how to effectively clean your child’s teeth and gums; evaluate any habits that could be harmful to dental health, such as thumbsucking or having sugary liquids at bedtime; and suggest a future schedule of dental visits.
Establish a positive relationship between your child and the dentist by continuing checkups and cleanings regularly, usually every six months. Some children may even need to visit the dentist more often due to poor oral hygiene or an increased risk of tooth decay.