When should you first take your child to the dentist? Most parents might guess age 3, 4, or 5. However, proper dental care actually begins when your child is still just a baby. The American Dental Association recommends that the first dental visit take place when a child is 1 year old. A more general rule of thumb is to take him or her 6 months after the first tooth appears.
In this article, we discuss what to expect at your child’s first dental visit, how to prepare for it, and how to take care of your child’s teeth in the months and years ahead.
Before Your Visit
Before your child’s first dental visit, it is important to establish a plan in the case that they are non-cooperative. If the child is frightened or uncomfortable on the day of the appointment, it might be necessary to reschedule. The dentist’s office should be a place that he or she only experiences on peaceful, accepting terms. Scheduling your appointment early in the day, when the child is most alert and fresh, can help reduce the likelihood of a negative experience.
Before your visit, talk to your child about the upcoming appointment and try to build excitement and understanding. Picture books about teeth can help prepare children in an atmosphere they are already familiar with. If the child is old enough and has enough fine motor skills, you may want to teach them to “brush” their teeth—or tooth—with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Even if they don’t quite understand what they are doing, it will establish a good habit for the future and teach them the concept of tooth care. If the child is still a baby, do not apply toothpaste to the brush just yet, as they will likely swallow it.
Remember that your baby has never experienced the dentist’s office yet, and has no reason to fear it. Any dread they feel towards the visit will be learned from observing you. So, if you’re worried about tantrums, don’t let that worry show, lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
During Your Visit
The first dental visit is mostly an opportunity to educate parents about proper infant dental care. Your baby will sit in your lap as the dentist explains proper brushing and flossing techniques. Even though his or her participation will be limited, however, it is important that your baby still be present for the appointment. Early, frequent visits to the dentist’s office will acclimate your child to the dental environment, making him or her less likely to develop a phobia as he or she gets older. If more serious problems develop in the near-future, you will find it invaluable to have your child already accustomed to the dentist’s chair.
Depending on your child’s age and tooth/gum condition, your visit might also include:
- A gentle examination of the teeth, jaw, bite, and gums.
- Possible cleaning, polishing, or stain removal.
- An assessment of the need for fluoride.
- Application of topical fluoride, which will harden the tooth enamel and prevent cavities.
After your initial visit, it is generally recommended to schedule an appointment once every 6 months, the standard for all patients. However, your dentist may recommend scheduling an appointment every 3 months in order to build up your child’s comfort and confidence levels.
What to Do Afterwards?
As your child’s teeth emerge, continue to teach him or her about the importance of brushing and flossing. Make sure to use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and supervise them as they brush, to make sure that no toothpaste is swallowed. Try to limit sticky, sugary foods, such as candy and gummies.
With proper supervision and frequent dental visits, you child will develop good dental habits that will serve them well for a lifetime. To set up your child’s first appointment, give us a call today.