Babies, Tips / How-Tos, Toddlers

When Should I Take My Child to the Dentist?

Parenthood comes with many firsts, from birthdays and haircuts to steps and words. Your child’s first dentist appointment jumpstarts their healthy dental habits and can be a great bonding experience for you and your little one. Learn more about what to expect with your child’s first dental visit, and remember: Being proactive about their dental health will encourage a lifetime of good dental habits.

When to go to the dentist

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends your child first visits the dentist when their first tooth erupts and no later than their first birthday. Though this might seem early, remember that cavities can develop as soon as their first tooth comes in. Also, baby teeth are just as important as adult teeth: They contribute to speech development, support proper chewing and retain space for adult teeth.

It’s important that you learn how to properly clean your child’s teeth to prevent decay from forming. Your child should also become familiar with the concept of cleaning their teeth. Early examination allows the dentist to assess growth and development as well as identify any potential issues with your child’s bite. You’ll set your child up for success by going early and regularly to the pediatric dentist.

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What to expect at your child’s first dental visit

The dentist will complete an overall checkup of your child’s mouth, teeth and the way they bite (which is known as occlusion). They’ll likely ask you about your child’s health history and daily oral hygiene routine, and they’ll also review your child’s diet. You’ll learn if any issues have already developed and discuss if any additional care is needed, such as a fluoride treatment. Your child will also be checked for any problems developed from habits, such as prolonged thumb-sucking or pacifier use, which can affect the positioning of their teeth and bite.

At the end of the exam, depending on your child’s age and development, the dentist will clean their teeth and offer guidance as to what to expect in the coming months. They may also provide strategies for proper home care, review healthy eating choices and discuss how to break habits that could affect your child’s oral development.

How to prepare for the appointment

Your kid’s first dental visit is a big deal, and you’ll want to take a few steps to make sure both of you feel comfortable before, during and after the appointment. First, when scheduling the appointment, choose a time you know will work well for your child. During nap time, for example, probably isn’t a good idea, so pick another time when you know they’ll be attentive and well rested.

In the days leading up to the appointment, talk to your child about their trip to the dentist in a positive, uplifting way. Explain what the dentist will do and answer any questions. You could even read a book to help calm any fears your child might have.

Ask the dental office for any forms ahead of time, and fill them out beforehand. This way, when appointment day comes, you’ll be able to focus on your child and won’t need to worry about all the paperwork or hunting down information.

Also, do a little research and write down a list of questions or concerns you want to talk to the dentist about. Take note of any habits your child has that might interfere with their dental health.

On the day of the appointment, let your kid have a light meal before you leave so they’re not hungry during the exam, but be sure to brush their teeth after they eat to remove any residue. Don’t offer snacks right before the appointment.

Remember to keep calm before the appointment. If your child is feeling anxious about their first dentist appointment, that’s OK. Encourage them to think of going to the dentist as a fun, happy experience. Avoid promising treats or gifts for getting through the appointment. Instead, talk with your child after the exam about how the appointment made them feel.

Going to the dentist for the first time is a great opportunity to establish a positive relationship between your child, their dental hygiene and the dentist. By starting early and making it a pleasant event, you’ll set your child up to make healthy dental choices from here on out.

For more information about Dr. Reena’s work at Growing Smiles, please visit the Growing Smiles website.

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Dr. Reena Shah, DDS, Growing Smiles

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