When should my
child have their first
dental appointment?

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In my office, I meet many parents who are surprised to learn the first dental visit should happen by the time they’re 6 months old or by the appearance of the first tooth, per guideline. Very often they feel guilty for “waiting too long to bring them in”. I understand why parents are unsure of why the guideline is this way. After all, most babies are barely teething by that age and even then, it’s “just baby teeth.”

This article is to help parents understand what happens at these first few appointments and why they should start early in their child’s life. Remember, what happens during a baby or toddler’s appointment is a bit different than a visit for an older child or adult and follows the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry’s guidelines, which recommends parents schedule those first few dental visits around the ages of 6 and 12 months.

Here’s a breakdown:

The 6 month visit: Oral health risk assessment and parent education 1, 2

On the first visit, a dentist will speak with the parents and access the baby for any risk factors for future cavities. The child should also be physically evaluated, with the dentist looking at the baby’s teeth, gums, cheeks, lips, tongue and other supporting tissue in the mouth. Parents should then get some guidance from the dentist (or physician) regarding preventive dental care for their child. This can include a variety of recommendations, such as how to brush your baby’s teeth (and why), proper fluoride exposure, diet, etc.

The 12 month visit: Establishing a dental home 1, 2

Ideally, the child sees a pediatric dentist during this visit. Parents will be asked to complete a medical and dental history form. This form is what the dentist uses to access a child’s diet and habits which can affect the child’s risk for cavities. The baby will also have an exam to establish if there are any issues with his or her enamel, gums, and surrounding tissue. Most likely, a cleaning and a fluoride treatment will also happen during the visit2. Age-appropriate oral care, such as how to encourage brushing and flossing with an uncooperative child and what to do should your baby fall and knock out a tooth, will be discussed with parents. Pacifier use and other sucking habits may also be discussed. During this visit, an individualized plan should be designed to fit your child’s needs. This can include the frequency that your child should be seeing a dentist and what home care should be. So, why is all this done so early? Research shows that a well-planned, early introduction to proper oral health and establishing a dental home can help a child decrease risk of caries into adulthood, and grow into a comfortable, confident patient in the early years – an attitude that can also last a lifetime.

Works Cited

  1. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Policy on the dental home. Pediatr Dent 2011;33(special issue):24-5.
  2. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Guideline on periodicity of examination, preventive dental services, anticipatory guidance/counseling, and oral treatment for infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatr Dent 2010;32 (special issue):93-100.

 

J. Shahangian

DDS, MS, CLEC, FAAPD

Dr. J is a board certified pediatric dentisty and owner of Scripps Pediatric Dentistry & Brush n Brace located in San Diego, CA. He is not only a Diplomat with the board but now also has Fellow status with the AAPD. He is proud father of 3 beautiful girls, a San Diego native, loves soccer and is passionate about pediatric oral health. His mission is battling the number 1 disease that he has seen take over our beloved children. Dr. J's corner provides answers and solutions to parents questions & concerns regarding their children's oral health.

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