February is Children's Dental Health Month. Here at Ready. Set. Food!, we want to help parents start baby’s dental health off strong.
Your little one’s first dentist appointment should happen sooner than most parents think. Find out when your baby should have their first dentist visit – and what you can expect during the visit.
When should baby first visit the dentist?
Have your little one's teeth started to come in? This means it's soon time for their first trip to the dentist.
Baby’s first dentist visit should happen within 6 months after their first tooth comes in, or before their first birthday – whichever comes first.
Of course, if they've already had their first birthday, it's not too late to take them to the dentist. Just do so as soon as possible.
Why visit the dentist before age one?
As soon as baby's first teeth come in, they're vulnerable to tooth decay and cavities. But these tooth problems can easily be prevented by giving baby's new little chompers the proper care.
Brushing baby's teeth two times a day is vital to dental health. That’s not all your baby’s pearly whites need, though. The earlier you have a dentist examine baby's teeth, the easier it is to prevent cavities before they start.
“Did you know that tooth decay is the most common childhood disease, yet it is almost always entirely preventable? Often times, kids will come in for their first appointment at three or four years old with cavities and tooth decay that could have been prevented with a routine checkup. That’s why it’s so important to start them young!” – Children’s Dental Health,(pediatric dentistry practices in Pennsylvania and Delaware)
This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) both recommend establishing a "dental home" for your child before their first birthday.
What’s a dental home? It’s a consistent home base for your child’s dental care needs. As the AAPD explains, "The dental home is the ongoing relationship between the dentist and the patient... The dental home should be established no later than 12 months of age to help children and their families institute a lifetime of good oral health."
Regular visits to your child's "home" dentist are vital to make sure your little one’s teeth are healthy, and that there are no signs of tooth decay. The dentist will advise you on the best ways to take care of baby's teeth as your little one grows.
Yes, your child’s first teeth will eventually fall out, to make way for permanent teeth. But having healthy baby teeth helps the permanent teeth come in properly, and is key to proper speech development.
Having the first dentist visit by age one also helps your little one get used to the dentist. The first visit should always be a positive experience that gently introduces baby to dental check-ups.
How to choose a dentist for baby?
A pediatric dentist is a great choice for your little one. In addition to all the dental training that every dentist completes, pediatric dentists complete 2-3 more years of training so they know how to work with children of all ages and abilities. Their offices are designed especially for children’s needs, and they know how to soothe your little one if they cry or try to move.
If your own dentist has experience with cleaning babies’ teeth, you can also choose to take baby to your own dentist. (This may make appointment scheduling easier in the future, once your child is old enough to be alone during their checkup.)
How to prepare for baby’s first dentist visit?
Follow these tips to help set baby up for a great first time at the dentist:
- Schedule the appointment at a time when baby is well-rested – not a time they usually nap.
- Have baby practice opening their mouth wide (“say aaahhhh!”) as you count or brush their teeth.
- Read fun picture books about characters who had good experiences at the dentist.
- Have your little one’s health history ready for the appointment.
- Also, write down any questions that you have for the dentist, so you don’t forget.
- Pack some of baby’s favorite toys, in case they need a distraction or something familiar.
- You don’t need to tell baby much about the dentist. Just mention that the dentist keeps teeth strong.
- Give your baby a meal before taking them to the dentist. That way, they won’t be hungry while at the dentist.
- Make sure baby’s teeth are brushed right before the dentist visit (after the meal). Between that brushing and the end of the dentist visit, skip the snacks, as they can coat the teeth.
- Stay positive and be ready to stay calm in the exam room, so your little one will have a positive first dentist experience. Remember that your little one doesn’t have any negative feelings about the dentist – they don’t know what a dentist is yet!
What to expect at baby’s first dentist visit?
The first dentist visit is for baby to get introduced to the dentist. It will be relatively quick (15-30 minutes).
During this visit, you’ll stay in the room with your child for the entire time.
You can even ask to sit in the chair with your child, holding them in your lap. (Or, the dentist might ask you to do so). This is known as a knee to knee dental exam.
Pediatric dentist Dr. John Woo demonstrates a knee-to-knee exam, and shows what a first dental visit might look like:
Here’s what will usually happen:
- The dentist will introduce themself to your little one.
- They will check and count baby’s teeth.
- Also, they will check the rest of baby’s mouth: the gums, tongue, lips, and other areas inside the mouth.
- Sometimes, they will gently clean baby’s teeth.
- They will ask about feeding and teeth-cleaning habits, whether baby sucks their thumb or uses a pacifier, and other questions related to baby’s mouth health.
- Usually, they will give you tips on how to care for baby’s mouth.
- After that, you’ll have time to ask the dentist any questions you have. You can ask about:
- What to expect as baby’s teeth come in
- When to wean baby off of a pacifier or off of thumb-sucking (as these habits can harm the teeth if done too long)
- How to take care of your little one’s teeth
- How much fluoride your child needs, and how often, to keep teeth healthy
- Be sure to schedule your little one’s next appointment 6 months from now – or even sooner, if the dentist would like to see your little one sooner.
How to help baby during their first dentist visit?
Here’s what you can do to help make your child’s first dentist visit a success:
- Remember to be calm and positive during the visit.
- Praise your child for doing well whenever you can.
- If your little one has a hard time, be supportive and help calm them down (including bringing out the distractions).
- Let your child make choices during the appointment – “Which toothbrush would you like?” Or “Do you want your dolly?”
- Let the dentist do most of the talking, so they can build a relationship with your little one during the visit. You’ll have the chance to ask questions – for now, just be supportive and encouraging.
- Do something your little one enjoys after the dentist visit, as a reward for having a great first dental checkup!
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