Your child’s life will be filled with firsts: first steps, first words, and, of course, the first trip to the dentist. While the thought of scheduling a dental exam for your little one may be the furthest thing from your mind, it is important to keep those tiny teeth (and gums) healthy from the very beginning. We reached out to some area dentists to gain a better understanding of the ideal timing for baby’s first trip to the dentist and what you can expect.
When to go
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends the first dental visit within 6 months after the first tooth erupts or no later than the child’s first birthday. “Though this may seem early, 40% of toddlers between two and three have some inflammation of the gums and/or cavities,” said Ashley Thurman, EFDA, team coordinator with Children’s Dental Center. “It is also a perfect time to establish a dental home for the child and get advice on eruption patterns, tooth cleaning, pacifiers, fluoride and preventing tooth injuries for young walkers.”
Dr. Katie Nichols with Carmel Pediatric Dentistry added that establishing a dental home by age one sets the tone for lifelong dental health. “A ‘dental home’ means that your child’s oral health care is delivered in a comprehensive, continuously accessible, coordinated and family-centered way. Establishing a dental home early allows your child to build confidence in the dental office setting and allows the dental team to build a lasting relationship with you and your child,” she said.
How to choose a dentist
While a parent’s first instinct may be to take their child to their own dentist, it is worth weighing the benefits of choosing a pediatric dentist. Both pediatric dentists and general dentists share the common goal of keeping children’s mouths healthy, and, according to Thurman, they often work hand in hand to meet that goal. While general dentists are qualified to work with patients of all ages, pediatric dentists are required to obtain additional training that focuses on the specific dental needs of growing children. “Pediatric dentists are essentially the pediatricians of dentistry and have had at least two to three years of specialty training following dental school, qualifying them to deal with the behavioral aspects of children, how to make them feel comfortable, and how to make the dental experience a pleasant one,” explained Courtney Bradshaw, LDH, practice ambassador with Fishers Pediatric Dentistry.
If parents prefer to stick with their current dentist, they should begin by asking the recommended age for a child’s first visit. “You are in the right place if they answer, ‘no later than 12 months of age’. This means your dentist is up-to-date with the current AAPD recommendations and guidelines for infant/toddler care,” stated Katherine Blair Jones, DMD, MSD with KidzSmile Dentistry.
What to expect
Parents should expect their child’s first visit to be relatively quick and easy. “The majority of your first visit will be spent educating you, the parent, on a variety of children’s oral
health topics, including brushing techniques for toddlers and infants, proper use of fluoride, oral habits (i.e. pacifiers and thumb sucking), ways to prevent accidents that could damage the face and teeth, teething and milestones of development, and dietary habits that may be putting your child at risk for cavities,” Nichols explained
During the actual exam, parents are typically able to hold their child, and many pediatric dentists use what is known as a lap-to-lap position in which the child faces their parent with their head placed in the dentist’s lap. “This allows the dentist to thoroughly examine the infant’s teeth while the child remains comfortable seeing the familiar face of the parent,” Jones explained.
How to get started on the foot
Remember, your child has no preconceived notion of what to expect at the dentist, and will be taking cues from you. It is therefore important to keep your own emotions in check. Parents should also discuss the visit ahead of time. “Read books about going to the dentist and watch fun, educational videos on YouTube. Visit your dentist office’s website so the faces are familiar or even stop by for a tour prior to your child’s first appointment,” Bradshaw recommended.
Role-playing is also helpful. “You and your child can have a pretend first visit where you practice opening/closing your mouth, sticking out your tongue, counting teeth, and brushing,” Jones suggested.
Even with preparation, Jones advises parents to expect some fussing. “It is age-appropriate for young children to wiggle, fuss, cry, and whine at their first visit. The dentist and staff are trained and equipped to handle these responses and make the best out of each visit. So stay positive and be reassuring to your child that going to the dentist is fun, easy, and important,” she added.
When it comes to dental health, prevention is key. Establishing a dental home by your child’s first birthday will set the stage for a healthy smile and a lifetime of good oral hygiene.