Q:Dr. Burhenne, my child is still an infant, but at what age should I bring him in for his first dental visit?
A:The general rule, which actually makes a lot of sense, is six months after the eruption of the first tooth. Basically, so long as your child has teeth, he or she should be seeing the dentist every six months. After all, decay can occur as soon as teeth appear. Eruption of the first tooth is typically before his or her first birthday.Going to the dentist as an adult absolutely depends on the experience you had as a child. People who have had a bad experience or don’t develop the habit during childhood almost always have inferior oral health as adults, which impacts their overall health. Taking your child to the dentist at a young age is the best way to not only prevent problems such as tooth decay, and can help you learn how to clean your child’s teeth but also help establish a lifetime of good oral care habits. Bringing your child to the dentist early often leads to a lifetime of good oral care habits and acclimates your child to the dental office, thereby reducing anxiety and fear, which will make for plenty of stress-free visits in the future.
What should I do before coming in with my child?
Before the visit, ask the dentist about the procedures of the first appointment so there are no surprises. Plan a course of action for either reaction your child may exhibit – cooperative or non- cooperative. Very young children may be fussy and not sit still. Talk to your child about what to expect, and build excitement as well as understanding about the upcoming visit. Bring with you to the appointment any records of your child’s complete medical history.
What will happen on the first visit?
Many first visits are nothing more than introductory icebreakers to acquaint your child with the dentist and the practice. If your child is frightened, uncomfortable or non-cooperative, a rescheduling may be necessary. Patience and calm on the part of the parent and reassuring communication with your child are very important in these instances. Short, successive visits are meant to build the child’s trust in the dentist and the dental office, and can prove invaluable if your child needs to be treated later for any dental problem.
Child appointments should always be scheduled earlier in the day, when your child is alert and fresh. For children under 36 months, the parent may need to sit in the dental chair and hold the child during the examination. Or, parents may be asked to wait in the reception area so a relationship can be built between your child and the dentist.
If the child is compliant, the first session often lasts between 15 and 30 minutes and may include the following, depending on age:
- A gentle but thorough examination of the teeth, jaw, bite, gums and oral tissues to monitor growth and development and observe any problem areas
- If indicated, a gentle cleaning, which includes polishing teeth and removing any plaque, tartar buildup or stains
- A demonstration on proper home cleaning
The dentist should be able to answer any questions you have and try to make you and your child feel comfortable throughout the visit. The entire dental team should provide a relaxed, non-threatening environment for your child.
When should the next visit be?
Children, like adults, should see the dentist every six months. Some dentists may schedule interim visits for every three months when the child is very young to build up a comfort and confidence level or to treat a developing problem.
How can I protect my child’s oral health at home?
Parents typically provide oral hygiene care until the child is old enough to take personal responsibility for the daily dental health routine of brushing and flossing. A proper regimen of preventive home care is important from the day your child is born.
- Clean your infant’s gums with a clean, damp cloth after each feeding.
- You’re on the hook for seven years.
- As soon as the first teeth come in, begin brushing them with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and water. If you are considering using toothpaste before your child’s second birthday, ask your dentist first.
- To avoid baby bottle tooth decay and teeth misalignment due to sucking, try to wean your child off of the breast and bottle by one year of age, and monitor excessive sucking of pacifiers, fingers and thumbs. Never give your child a bottle of milk, juice or sweetened liquid as a pacifier at naptime or bedtime.
- Help a young child brush at night, the most important time to brush, due to lower salivary flow and higher susceptibility to cavities. Perhaps let the child brush their teeth first to build self-confidence, then the parent can follow up to ensure that all plaque is removed. Usually by age 5 or so, the child can learn to brush his or her own teeth with proper parental instruction.
- The best way to teach a child how to brush is to lead by good example. Allowing your child to watch you brush your teeth teaches the importance of good oral hygiene.