“When is the right time to schedule my child’s first dental appointment?” “Why are early dental visits important?” “Shouldn’t we wait until the child is a little bit older and more mature?” These are among the most common questions parents have regarding their child’s oral health.
Establishing a dental home early in a child’s life reinforces good oral health habits and education that will carry with them into adulthood.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children have their first dental visit within 6 months of eruption of their first “baby” tooth, or no later than 12 months of age." – Dr. Kari Peper.
Exposing children to the dental office at a young age will help them acclimate to the environment as well as allow the dentist to identify problems that may require early intervention. Timely diagnosis and treatment of oral disease will allow for more conservative and less costly treatment.
Many people have had negative dental experiences in the past, and we strive to change this. We understand that each child has individual needs and we will work to make the dental office a place where they feel at home.
With the combination of my dental education and experience along with AAPD guidelines, I’ve compiled a list of some things you should know about your child’s first dental visit:
1. PLAN ACCORDINGLY
Keep in mind the time of day your child is typically the most rested when choosing an appointment time, if possible. For most infants, this is early in the day.
2. WE’LL START SMALL
We will work up to the exam. Your dentist will likely begin the appointment discussing topics such as age-appropriate brushing, the use of fluoride-containing products for your child’s unique situation, diet, oral development, bottle feeding and sippy cup usage, trauma prevention, and oral habits such as pacifier use or thumb-sucking. This time also allows the child to become comfortable with the surrounding environment. Bringing a favorite blanket or toy to the appointment may also help.
3. THE DENTAL CHAIR
The chair is typically not used for young children or infants. Most commonly, the child is positioned for a “lap exam,” where the dentist and caregiver sit facing each other knee-to-knee. The child is positioned on both the dentist and caregiver’s laps facing the caregiver. As the child becomes more comfortable with the environment and the dental providers, the transition will be made to the traditional dental chair.
4. CRYING IS EXPECTED – AND it’s OK!
Most children cry during their first dental exam. This is completely normal and actually allows the dentist to visualize the teeth and oral tissues because when a child cries, his or her mouth is open.
5. MORE THAN TOOTH DECAY
We will also be assessing your child’s developing bite, tooth eruption patterns, oral hygiene, temporomandibular joint, oral development, soft tissues, and decay risk. Examining these structures early will allow for easier identification and management of oral disease.
6. OLDER SIBLINGS
Many children are motivated by the actions of their peers. Using older siblings as positive role models in the dental chair can be a great way to set a good example for the child. For many children, this shows them that they can feel safe and comfortable at the dental office.
Your dentist will assess your child’s individual needs and create an appropriate schedule for return visits.
Introducing your child to the dental office early is a great way to reinforce good oral health and hygiene habits, identify potential problems early, and to get your child comfortable with dental visits. Keeping these 6 things in mind should help your child’s first visit to the dentist go smoothly – and serve as the first step to a lifetime of positive dental experiences!