The first question that should be asked by any parent, in regards to their child’s teeth, should be: “When should I schedule my baby’s first visit to the dentist?”
There are likely plenty of other pressing dental questions on a new parent’s minds, but your dentist–not Google–is best suited to answer those questions.
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The answer is simple. It’s the same answer provided by the Canadian and Ontario Dental Associations, the Canadian Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Academy of Pediatrics and all their American counter parts – most notably the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD):
By the child’s first tooth or first birthday.
Yes, you read that right. You should schedule your baby’s first visit to the dentist by the first birthday or first tooth. Why? The purpose of this is to establish a “dental home” for your child.
As the AAPD suggests, the dental home should provide:
- Comprehensive oral health care, which includes acute care and preventive services.
- Comprehensive assessment for oral diseases and conditions.
- An individualized preventive dental health program based upon a caries-risk assessment and a periodontal disease risk assessment.
- Guidance about growth and development issues (eg. teething, digit or pacifier habits).
- A plan for acute dental trauma.
- Information about proper care of the child’s teeth and gingivae. This would include the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease of the supporting and surrounding tissues and the maintenance of health, function, and aesthetics of those structures and tissues;
- Dietary counseling.
- Referrals to dental specialists when care cannot directly be provided within the dental home.
Why then are so many family dentists and their staffs only willing to see children at “about 3 years old” and only when it’s just for a ride in the chair with mom?
The simple answer is that crying kids don’t brighten anyone’s day. In all honesty, most kids will cry if a stranger tries to put his or her hands in their mouth. Who wouldn’t?! As a concerned and conscientious parent, however, avoiding tears shouldn’t be a good enough reason to not to be invested in your child’s oral health.
The earlier you can instill any habit, the better the chances are of having those habits and actions be comfortable and not scary.
Pediatric dentists like myself (who encourage parents to bring their kids in for their first visit to the dentist by their first birthday), are working towards that very goal of reducing the numbers of tears.
The earlier you can instill any habit and make it commonplace to a child, the better the chances are of having those habits and actions be comfortable and natural. If those habits are comfortable, they’re not scary or worthy of “the waterworks.”
So what can you get for a birthday gift for the one-year-old that has everything? Why not consider a roadmap to a lifetime of good oral health?
Bring him or her for their first visit to the dentist by the first tooth or first birthday.
Beyond all the noble goals listed by the AAPD (see my last blog) as reasons to establish a dental home by a child’s first birthday or first tooth, there are really two overriding good reasons to bring your child into a dentist this early. The first we have just touched on – we’ll call it building a better dental patient.
The biggest fear we encounter on a daily basis in a pediatric dental office is the fear of the unknown.
Most kids – and many parents – don’t know what a filling is, don’t understand what freezing is for; don’t know why we take X-rays, and it is this not knowing that frightens many of us.
The strange smells, the high-pitched whirl of the handpiece, the feeling of water being squirted into and sucked out of your mouth are all very unnerving the first time but become very comfortable and benign once a child knows what to expect and how it feels. And that is the goal, to slowly and steadily, one visit at a time, to introduce all the elements of a complete dental visit to the child.
To progress from a mirror and probe at age one, and add in the suction or “Mr. Thirsty”, and air-water syringe or “Squirt Gun” at age two, and then including Xrays or “skeleton pictures” of teeth by age three. By the time too many children visit a dentist for the first time at age four or later and have already been instilled with the idea that something weird, invasive, and potentially painful, those who have been exposed to the dental routine by their first birthday already have three years of experience and six or more simple and productive visits under their belt.
The second stems from a philosophy of oral care.
If you believe that you go to the dentist to make sure nothing is wrong, then maybe a first visit at three years old makes sense. But if you believe, as I do, that going to the dentist is a step to ensure complete dental health, to learn how to properly provide oral care for your child, to see that everything is right, then visiting by the first birthday is the way to go.
In the same way that babies are seen by their family doctor or pediatrician many times throughout the early formative years for “well-Baby-visits”, very young children should do the same with the dentist. You don’t go to a Well Baby visit to make sure your child doesn’t have measles, you go so that you ensure they are as healthy as they can be. The absence of disease is not health. Health is a state all of its own. By the same token, we don’t visit the dentist to avoid disease, we go to ensure health.
So if you had planned on only bringing your child to the dentist “once they start school” or “start grade school”, or “can sit quietly”, or whenever the receptionist at your dental office tells you to, consider the opportunity you are passing up. Think about the learning possibilities on how to provide optimal oral health for your child, the confidence and comfort you can help foster in your child, the dental patient skills you can help to build, and the lifelong positive healthy habit and attitude you can help to form.
Think about it carefully. And then think first tooth or first birthday, and start your child on the path to a lifetime of excellent oral health.
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