Your Child's First Dental Visit

When should your child first see a dentist? Experts at the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry say the ideal time is when first tooth appears, but no later than one year of age.

At this time, the dentist can provide or recommend information on baby bottle tooth decay, feeding practices, mouth cleaning, teething, pacifier habits, and thumb-sucking habits.

Prepare Your Child

If possible, schedule a morning appointment, when your child is alert and fresh. Give your child a general idea of what to expect. Explain why it is important to go to the dentist. Build excitement and understanding.

Prepare Yourself

Discuss your questions and concerns with the dentist before the exam. If you have dental anxieties, be careful to not relate those fears or dislikes to your child. Parents need to provide moral support by staying calm while in the dental exam room. Children can pick up parents' anxieties and become anxious themselves.

Prepare the Dentist

At the first visit, provide the dentist with your child's complete medical history.

Pay attention to your child's reactions. Many parents are able to anticipate their child's possible response to certain situations and should inform the dentist. For example, children who are attached to their parents may become upset when taken from their parents for an exam.

The First Visit

Most initial office visits are to help acquaint the child with the dentist. The first visit should be before your child’s first birthday. The first visit usually lasts 30 to 45 minutes and may include the following, depending on the child’s age:

• A thorough examination of the teeth, jaws, bite, gums, and oral tissues to monitor growth and development

• A gentle cleaning, which includes polishing teeth and removing any plaque, tartar and stains

• A demonstration of proper home cleaning, including flossing.

Because baby teeth fall out, X-rays aren’t usually recommended for diagnosing decay. X-rays are used to see if the root of a baby tooth may be affecting an adult tooth. In general, it is best not to use X-rays in young children unless absolutely necessary.

Protect Your Child’s Teeth at Home

• Before your baby’s teeth erupt, clean his or her gums with a clean, damp cloth.

• Once your baby has one or more teeth, brush them twice daily with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush. Once the child can spit and not swallow it, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. This is usually around age 2-3.

• To prevent baby bottle tooth decay, don't give your child a bottle of milk, juice, or sweetened liquid at bedtime or naptime.

• Limit the time your child spends drinking from a bottle to six minutes or less at a time.

• Avoid candy and sweetened drinks, which increase tooth decay. Offer fruit rather than juice; the fiber in fruit tends to scrape the teeth clean, whereas juice just exposes the teeth to sugar.

• Avoid foods that can stick to the grooves of the teeth, such as raisins or other dried fruits.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jovino, Louise DO

Date Last Reviewed: 4/2/2010

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