People often ask me when they should start bringing their child in for dental exams. It is recommended by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry that children establish a “dental home” when the first tooth erupts or by the age of 1 year. Why so early? There are many answers to this question.
Prevention is the number one reason to visit the dentist by the age of 1 year. Early visits will include a quick exam, toothbrush cleaning and fluoride application with the child on the parent’s lap, but should mostly consist of a conversation.
The dental staff should ask the parent about many of the following topics:
In collecting answers from the parent, the dentist can educate, problem-solve and redirect risky behaviors before they are ingrained habits which are hard to break and cause problems.
Establishing a dental home by the age of one also allows the child to begin the process of becoming comfortable in the dental office. If the child has had several easy exams and toothbrush cleanings since the age of one, by the age of three or four the child will have established trust in the dentist and become comfortable in the dental office setting. In contrast, when the child’s first visit to the dentist is at 3 or 4 with a toothache that needs emergency treatment, the experience can be scary and affect the child’s reaction to dentistry for years to come.
Putting preventive appointments off can also be very expensive. If bad habits lead to a mouth of decay in a young child, extensive treatment plans, often involving the need for sedation or general anesthesia, can be both expensive and anxiety-provoking for parents and child.
Seeing the dentist early also allows the dentist to establish a baseline for the child, enabling the dentist to monitor growth and development and make referrals when appropriate. It also gives the parent security in knowing who they would call if any traumatic tooth injury occurred (falls involving tooth trauma are extremely common in toddlers). Having a dental home and a trusted dentist you can call upon is important in such stressful situations.
Baby teeth are important. Rotten baby teeth can cause life-threatening infections, pain leading to behavior and learning problems, and low self-esteem. Untreated cavities in baby teeth usually lead to cavities in permanent teeth. Establishing a dental home by the age of one year enables parents to change risky behaviors, cement good habits and routines and sets a child on a path for good oral health for life.
How do you guard your child’s dental health? What is your favorite idea for helping a kid learn to brush their teeth and floss?
Kathryn Warren Hart, D.D.S.
Pediatric Dentist, Marillac Clinic
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