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When Should I Take My Child to the Dentist?

As a new parent, you might be wondering, “When should I take my baby to the dentist?”

Did you know that more than three-quarters of American parents do not take their child to the dentist before their first birthday according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) annual report? The average age of children when they have their first dental appointment is 2.6 years according to a survey. A child’s primary teeth (aka “baby teeth”) start growing in around six months.  With this in mind, the AAPD recommends bringing your child to the dentist before his or her first birthday or six months after his or her first tooth erupts.

There are several reasons why your child’s first dental visit should be before their first birthday. First, primary teeth help children chew properly to maintain good nutrition. Second, primary teeth help with speech development. Third, primary teeth help save space for permanent teeth and promote overall health. And of course, tooth decay in young children continues to be a concern as one in five children under the age of five experienced dental caries (cavities).

Should I use a pediatric dentist?

Pediatric dentists specialize in the oral health of children from infancy through the teenage years. According to Healthy Children, they have the experience and qualifications to care for a child’s teeth, gums, and mouth throughout the various stages of childhood. As a parent, consider taking your child to a pediatric dentist as they know how to examine children and treat them in ways that they feel most comfortable. Additionally, they can provide habit counseling for things like pacifier use or thumb sucking and early assessment for orthodontics. Talk to your pediatrician about helping to find a pediatric dentist near you.

How to prepare for your child’s first dentist appointment.
No matter what, preparing for your baby’s first dentist appointment can be a little stressful, even if you prepare. You’ll need to prepare your baby for the sound of machinery, the use of sharp instruments and a stranger telling them to open their mouth. You may be unsure of how he or she will react in a new situation and wonder if your baby will be cooperative during the appointment. A baby might be too young to be nervous. However, if your child is toddler age, it’s a good idea to give him or her a brief overview of what going to the dentist is like. As with other situations, your child will follow your lead so if you seem nervous, your child will be able to sense it and may become nervous too. The best way to handle nerves at the dentist is to be positive about going to the dentist.

What to expect at your child’s first dentist appointment.
Your child’s first dentist appointment will probably consist of a full examination of the mouth, jaw, bite, gums and oral tissue to assess the growth and development of the mouth. If needed, the dentist may do a light cleaning and give tips on how to brush and keep your baby or toddler’s mouth clean in between appointments. X-rays in young children are typically avoided unless absolutely needed if the dentist suspects tooth decay or to see if the root of a jammed baby tooth is affecting the growth of an adult tooth trying to come in. Just like adults, babies and toddlers should have regular dentist appointments every six months and if there’s a development problem, every three months. Your child’s dentist may also apply a fluoride varnish to their teeth during the visit if needed.
With a few pointers on how to prepare for your child’s first dentist appointment, you and your baby or toddler will have a positive experience. In turn, a positive experience will inspire your child to take good care of his or her teeth and maintain a healthy mouth and teeth for the rest of his or her life.

Interested in more information about baby’s first dentist appointment, pediatric oral care or teething for babies and toddlers? Please consult your child’s pediatrician or pediatric dentist directly with any questions or concerns you have about the dental health of your child. We also have a blog on teething that you can check out. The American Dental Association also has a video on first dental visits here.

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