Dental health experts say a lifetime of strong healthy teeth begins with a child's first visit to the dentist. And they say it should be scheduled even when children still have their baby teeth.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Society of Dentistry for Children recommend a first dental visit between the ages of six months and one year.
“The most important thing is that we see the children early,” says Dr. Teddi Litman, a Florida-based pediatric dentist who practices at offices in Kendall and Hialeah. “Dental problems develop as soon as the teeth develop, and children start getting their teeth at six months of age.”
According to Litman, “oftentimes the child is sleeping with the bottle and can have a lot of cavities, or caries, by age 12 months from such improper bottle use.”
Like many of her colleagues, Litman says early efforts aimed at good dental hygiene are important because they help avoid the need for treatment when the child is very young.
She views the first visit as a time to check how the teeth are developing, to look for decay and the detrimental affects of oral habits such as thumb-sucking, and to share information with the family.
Although Litman says she typically sees children at around age 2 years for their first dental exam, she acknowledges “that part of getting them started early is getting them acclimated to having people stick fingers in their mouth and having their mouth looked at.”
During the first visit, the dentist, hygienist, or assistant shows parents how to properly clean the child's teeth and mouth. “We encourage the parents to start brushing the teeth as soon as the teeth come in,” Litman says. “I like to see children every six months and start the first (office) cleanings at around age three or four.”
Some tips for making that first visit memorable – but for good reasons:
– Select a dentist who is caring, friendly, and makes the child's first visit a special occasion. “Try for a pediatric dental office where everybody is used to seeing young children and where the office is set up with children in mind, with a play area or children's waiting room,” Litman recommends.
– If possible, let the child observe a dental exam involving an older sibling or family member. “It's helpful if they can see another child having a first dental visit, says Litman. “This is better than bringing the child in to just look at the office before the scheduled visit.”
– Avoid instilling anxiety about going to the dentist. “Probably the biggest stumbling block is the parent's anxiety, and children are very receptive and pick up on their parent's fears,” Litman says.
– Select an appointment time that is best for the child. Early morning often is best, Litman says. “With very young children, a late appointment may come at a time when they're more cranky.”
The bottom line to parents from dental experts: Let your child learn from your example. They say this means brush twice a day, floss at least once daily, visit the dentist regularly, and select foods carefully – checking the nutritional value and sugar content.