When Should I Schedule My Child's First Dental Exam?

By Rebecca Pillar

Being a parent is tough. Everyday we are faced with new challenges and adventures. As the old cliché goes “Children don’t come with instruction manuals” so we rely on doctors, nurses, family and friends for advice when questions arise.
Many new and exciting changes take place with our little ones during their first year of life. As a matter of fact, children grow more rapidly in that first year than any other time in their lives.
Among the exciting changes that take place is the eruption of Beau or Belle’s first tooth. Keeping in mind that every child is different, parents should expect to see some ‘pearly whites’ around the age of three to nine months. Generally the bottom two front teeth will be the first to emerge.

If you haven’t already by the time your child’s first teeth start to erupt, it is then a good idea to initiate good oral hygiene. You don’t need any special equipment. A washcloth is sufficient. At least twice a day you should wipe your child’s teeth clean. Flora inside the mouth begins “attacking” the enamel on teeth almost as soon as they erupt. This is why it is so important to devote a few moments every day to your child’s teeth. As they get older and have more teeth, you can then switch over to using a soft bristled toothbrush. Please keep in mind that only a very small amount of toothpaste is actually needed. It also might be a good idea to purchase toothpaste that is designed especially for infants/children.

According to the American Dental Association, infants should have their first visit to the dentist around their first birthday. The American Academy of Pediatrics has the same basic philosophy but states if a child has increased dental risk actors, the child should be evaluated as early as six months of age.

Mom and Dad having a history of dental problems, any health issues the child might have or preterm/low birth weight babies are several indicators of increased risk for dental problems. You can discuss these factors and any other questions you might have with your child’s pediatrician.

What should Mom/Dad/Baby expect at the first dental visit?
It might be a good idea to bring your child to the dentist before their actual initial check up. Let them see the dentists, assistants, tools and atmosphere. Helping them get acquainted with the dentists office just might help make the trip a lot less stressful.

Your child's first dental appointment
At your first visit, the dentist will cover several issues. You should expect the dentist to:

Check for proper growth/eruption of teeth
Check your child’s jaw for any abnormalities
Check for cavities
Discuss fluoride needs
Clean your child’s teeth
Address and evaluate any unfavorable habits such as thumb sucking and teeth grinding
Talk about your child’s nutrition
Discuss the transition from bottle to cup (if applicable)
Answer any questions/concerns you may have

After the initial appointment, you should expect to return your child to the dentist twice a year if your child has no dental issues. If a problem is noted, you could expect to see the dentist more frequently.

The earlier you start introducing good oral care habits to your children the better. Children, especially those aged 3 and under are at the greatest risk for oral health problems. Remember that cavities do not form overnight. Simple steps taken early on help ensure a lifetime of healthy teeth. Don’t wait until there is a problem to seek treatment. And as always, discuss any questions or concerns with your child’s doctor.

© Rebecca Pillar 2007

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