toddler brushing teethby Christina Lorenzen

A baby’s first tooth is one milestone that should lead to another – their first dental checkup. While most parents make baby’s first visit to the pediatrician priority, many do not realize how early a visit to the dentist should take place.

Baby teeth typically start falling out around ages 5-6 and continue as late as 13 years of age. Those twice annual dental checkups are a must to be aware of the condition of both baby teeth and incoming adult teeth.

How Old should a child be to go to the dentist?

Many parents take their child for the first time around three years of age or “when they are ready.” According to Catherine Seles, a member of the American Dental Hygienist Association and a dental hygienist for over twenty years, “a child should typically see a dentist some time between the first tooth erupting and their first birthday.”

That often surprises many parents. “I hadn’t realized this,”said Lisa Dempsey, mother of three year old twins. “To me getting their first tooth means they’re still a baby and it’s hard to picture them in a dentist’s chair.”

However, this first visit is laying the foundation for a lifetime of good dental health. It’s the ideal time to introduce the child to the dentist and get them used to seeing him/her on a regular basis. It is important because it gives the dentist and hygienist a chance to see the teeth before decay sets in. Surprisingly, if you wait until 2 or 3 years of age, there may already be some decay.

First visit is laying the foundation

“The first visit is non-invasive and the child is not pushed to do anything the first time,” says Seles, RDH, B.S. Taking the child this early will eventually result in more thorough visits as the child becomes comfortable with the surroundings.

Feeling more comfortable with their surroundings will lead to more cooperative and productive visits. Many parents are apprehensive about their child’s first visit. Parents can easily prepare their child by using books and viewing age appropriate videos about the dentist together.

How do I  prepare my children for a visit to the dentist?

An ideal way to prepare them is to use a light and mirror. Simply show the child how a dentist will shine a light to see their teeth. Using a mirror, a parent can explain how the dentist can see teeth in the very back of their mouth. Keep it simple and positive and try not to let your own anxieties influence them.

“Answer questions but let them make their own decisions or conclusions about the visit,” Seles advises. “Parents often place their apprehension on the child.” Another positive point to keep in mind according to Seles is that “dentistry has changed and is more fun for a child.”

Teaching kids to brush their teeth

Many parents worry about whether their child is cleaning their properly. When it comes to home care, Seles advises parents to “supervise brushing until age 8 when they are able to do a better job on their own.

“When the first tooth has erupted they should be brushing with a toothbrush for their age and with very little toothpaste. At this age they are more likely to swallow toothpaste so the size should be pea-sized or smaller.” Supervising brushing ensures a thorough job and is a must since children often don’t spit out the paste.

Using pea sized or smaller amounts of paste will insure that they don’t get too much fluoride in their system. For parents concerned about flossing, it is advised for areas where the teeth are close together, where debris gets trapped. Brushing is most important after breakfast and before bed, since saliva flow decreases dramatically when the child is sleeping.

Regular Cleanings are important

In addition to vigilant home care, a child should get a professional cleaning every 6 months along with their exam and a fluoride treatment. As adults we know a visit to the dentist can head off potential problems and this is true for the youngest patient as well.

Cavities are the most commonly seen problem but children are still losing baby teeth and getting permanent teeth and need to be monitored by a dentist. As an example, the premolars behind the eye teeth don’t normally come in until the ages of 11-13.

If decay should set in the baby molars and the teeth are lost, then there is not adequate space being retained for the new teeth to come in. Parents should also inspect their child’s gum for overcrowding or signs of an abscess, usually a small tell-tale bubble on the gum.

Avoiding “Baby Bottle Syndrome”

Seles also warns parents “not to put a baby to bed with a bottle of mils or juice as the liquid lingers on the teeth and can cause Baby Bottle Syndrome.”

Every child is not ready for the dentist when the time comes for their first visit. A dentist and his/her staff will work with the child. The staff will coax the child to relax them, often introducing equipment to them to familiarize the child with the office.

Parents can also take comfort in the fact that there are many pediatric dental offices where the dentist and staff are trained specially to work with children.

When it comes to taking a child for their first visit to the dentist, how a parent handles the visit can make or break how the child will view oral care throughout their life. With the help of books, videos and a positive attitude, a parent can set the foundation for future happy and healthy visits to the dentist.

 

Kids Dental Health – “Tooth Truths” from the American Dental Association

Let’s Not Forget the Dentist

 

Christine Lorenzen

Christina Lorenzen, author, and editor of Ages and Stages of Child Development Section, she specializes in parenting and health issues. In addition to this column, Christine is also a columnist for Connecting Home magazine.
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