When should your child first see a dentist? You can take your child at a younger age, but experts recommend taking your child within 6 months of the first tooth coming in (erupting), or by about 12 months at the latest.
At this time, the dentist can give you information on:
Baby bottle tooth decay
Infant feeding practices
If possible, schedule morning appointments so young children are alert and fresh.
Prepare a preschooler or older child for the visit by giving them a general idea of what to expect. You can tell them about the exam room, the instruments they might see, the face masks the dentist and hygienist may wear, and the bright exam light. Explain why it is important to go to the dentist. Build excitement and understanding.
Discuss your questions and concerns with the dentist. Remember that your feeling toward dental visits can be quite different from your child's. Be honest with your view of the dentist. If you have dental anxieties, be careful not to relate those fears or dislikes to your child. Parents need to give moral support by staying calm while in the dental exam room. Children can pick up parents' anxieties and become anxious themselves.
If you don't know the dentist, interview the person first to see if they sound right for your child's needs and personality. At the first visit, give the dentist your child's complete health history. For a restoration visit, such as getting a cavity filled, tell the dentist if your child tends to be stubborn, defiant, anxious, or fearful in other situations. Ask the dentist how they handle such behavior. If you aren't comfortable with the answer, find another dentist.
Watch how your child reacts. Many parents are able to guess how their child will respond and should tell the dentist. Certain behaviors may be linked to your child's age:
10 to 24 months. Some securely attached children may get upset when taken from their parents for an exam.
2 to 3 years. A securely attached child may be able to cope with a brief separation from parents. In a 2-year-old, "no" may be a common response.
3 years. Three-year-olds may not be OK being apart from a parent when having a dental procedure such as getting a cavity filled. This is because most 3-year-olds are not socially mature enough to separate from parents.
4 years. Most children should be able to sit in another room from parents for exams and treatment procedures.
Your child's first dental visit is to help your child feel comfortable with the dentist. The first dental visit is recommended by 12 months of age, or within 6 months of the first tooth coming in. The first visit often lasts 30 to 45 minutes. Depending on your child's age, the visit may include a full exam of the teeth, jaws, bite, gums, and oral tissues to check growth and development. If needed, your child may also have a gentle cleaning. This includes polishing teeth and removing any plaque, tartar, and stains. The dentist may show you and your child proper home cleaning such as flossing, and advise you on the need for fluoride. Baby teeth fall out, so X-rays aren’t often done. But your child's dentist may recommend X-rays to diagnose decay, depending on your child's age. X-rays are also used to see if the root of a jammed baby tooth may be affecting an adult tooth. In general, it is best that young children not have dental X-rays unless absolutely needed.
Just like adults, children should see the dentist every 6 months. Some dentists may schedule visits more often, such as every 3 months. This can build comfort and confidence in the child. More frequent visits can also help keep an eye on a developmental problem. Talk to your dentist about payment options if the cost of dental care is a problem for you.
Here are some tips to protect your children's teeth:
Before teeth come in, clean gums with a clean, damp cloth.
Start brushing with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and a very small amount of toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice) when your child's first tooth appears. Use a pea-sized dab of fluoridated toothpaste after 3 years of age. This is when the child is old enough to spit out the toothpaste after brushing.
Prevent baby bottle tooth decay. Don't give children a bottle of milk, juice, or sweetened liquid at bedtime or when put down to nap.
Limit the time your child has a bottle. Your child should empty a bottle in 5 to 6 minutes or less.
Help your child brush his or her own teeth until age 7 or 8. Have the child watch you brush, and follow the same brushing pattern to reduce missed spots.
Limit foods and treats that increase tooth decay. This includes hard or sticky candies, fruit leather, and sweetened drinks and juice. Offer fruit rather than juice. The fiber in fruit tends to scrape the teeth clean. Juice just exposes the teeth to sugar.