When should you schedule your child’s first dental visit?

Parents frequently ask, “When is the recommended age to schedule my child’s first dental appointment?” Some believe it’s best to wait until all his or her teeth have come in or if a dental related problem arises. However, the experts at the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) both recommend that a child’s first visit should be within six months after their first tooth erupts. And typically, primary teeth begin erupting around 6 months of age. Prolonging the visit any longer than age one, can increase your child’s risk of dealing with plaque build-up or cavities at their first dental visit.

Many assume that because baby teeth are temporary they do not require much attention and there is little point in caring for them. However, that is a common mistake. Your child’s permanent teeth are slowly developing under their primary ones and should be cared for until they are lost naturally. According to the AAPD, primary teeth are important for many different reasons including:

  • Helping to assist with proper chewing to maintain good nutrition.
  • Saving space for future permanent teeth.
  • Involvement in speech development.
  • Promoting a healthy smile that helps with confidence building.

The first dental visit at age one, isn’t purposed for any “real” work. We like to refer to it as “taking a ride in the dental chair.” It is more designed to begin building a relationship with your child and to introduce them to the office staff and the dentist in a fun, upbeat, non-threatening way. It is also a great time for the dentist to speak with you, the parent, regarding how to best care for your child’s teeth. Chances are, if you begin bringing your child to the dentist early, they will probably be too young to have dental jitters. However, if they are older (age 2 or 3) they may have reservations and anxiety at the time of their first meet and greet.

There are many ways to prepare your little one for an initial dental appointment. Some of them include:
Literature:  You may want to visit a local bookstore and find fun books geared toward children, teeth, and dental visits.
Role Play:  Take turns being the dentist. Count each other’s teeth and practice looking in the mirror at their tongue and gums. This can familiarize them with what an examination in our practice may look like.
Observation: Bring your child in to an older sibling’s appointment, and let them observe chair-side so they will know what to expect when it is their turn.

For this introductory appointment, the dentist will gently examine the oral cavity, ensuring everything in your child’s mouth is developing normally. Drs. Hochberg and Diora practice using child friendly language such as “sugar bugs” and “tooth counter” to begin building trust with your little one. They will speak with you about introducing toothpastes that contain fluoride, discuss any habits that may need addressing (thumb sucking, pacifier use, etc.) and evaluating if your child is at risk for tooth decay. Your child will receive a colorful toothbrush, and you will be given an informative brochure with great tips on how to continue healthy homecare practices.

Unless further treatment is recommended, it is advised that you schedule your child to come in for a dental cleaning every six months. Each visit, the dentist will build upon the last. Meaning, the first visit will be an examination, the second visit we may introduce polishing their teeth with a flavored paste, and finally a third visit applying a fluoride varnish. More or less may be done depending on your child’s comfort level. By the time he or she is age 3, they will be a pro at being independent in the dental chair and you can rest easy with a cup of coffee and a magazine, knowing your child is calm and is in the capable hands of trusted dental professionals.

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