When Should I take my child to their first dental appointment?
In my office, I meet many, many moms who are surprised to learn their child’s first dental visit should happen by the time they’re 6 months old per guideline. In fact, they often express feeling guilty for “waiting too long to bring them in”.
I get why moms wonder why the guideline is as such. After all, most babies are barely teething by that age. And even then, it’s “just baby teeth.”
This post is to give you the scientific perspective that comes from the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry’s guidelines, which recommends parents schedule those first few dental visits around the ages of 6 and 12 months.
Now, keep in mind, what happens during those appointments is a bit different than a traditional checkup and cleaning for an older child or adult.
Here’s a breakdown:
The 6 month visit: Oral health risk assessment and parent education (1, 2)
During this visit, a dentist or pediatrician should talk to moms and dads to assess the baby’s risk factors for future cavities. The little one should also be evaluated, with the dentist looking at the baby’s teeth, gums, cheeks, lips, tongue and other supporting tissue in the mouth. Then, parents should get a little guidance from the dentist (or physician), including some information on preventive dental care for their child, such as why — and how — to brush, and giving their baby the ideal exposure to fluoride (What? Fluoride for a toddler?- you’ll have to read guidelines on this too).
The 12 month visit: Establishing a dental home (1, 2)
Ideally, the child sees a pediatric dentist during this visit.
This appointment should include all sorts of hand on stuff like a cleaning, exam and a healthy dose of education.
The parents take part by giving a complete medical and dental history, which helps the dentist assess the baby’s risk for cavities as the child’s diet and habits are now more established.
From there, the dentist should discuss age-appropriate oral-care with the parents – everything from how to help an uncooperative child brush and flossing, to what to do if that newly walking baby falls, knocking out a tooth.
The pediatric dentist will also examine the baby to see if there are any problems with his or her enamel, gums and surrounding tissues. Most likely, cleaning and a fluoride varnish treatment will happen during the visit2.
In addition, the dentist should tailor an individualized preventive care plan for the child, including an idea of how often they need to bring in their child in for checkups and go over the frequency of in-home dental care and fluoride use.
To help ensure the baby grows up to have strong, healthy teeth, the dentist and parents may discuss diet, cavities, oral hygiene practices, oral trauma, teething and using a pacifier and other non-nutritive sucking habits.
So, why is all this done so early?
The research shows that a well-planned, early introduction to proper oral health and establishing a dental home can help a child decrease risk of caries into adulthood, and grow into a comfortable, confident patient in the early years – an attitude that can also last a lifetime.
1. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Policy on the dental home. Pediatr Dent 2011;33(special issue):24-5.
2. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Guideline on periodicity of examination, preventive dental services, anticipatory guidance/counseling, and oral treatment for infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatr Dent 2010;32 (special issue):93-100.