There seems to be quite a lot of confusion as to when you should first take your child to see the dentist. Just take a quick poll of your friends and family, google “child’s first dental visit”, or even ask your own dentist and you will get a wide variety of answers.
It is not uncommon to hear dentists say that they won’t see children until they are 3 years old. Why? The usual answer is that at that age, kids tend to be more cooperative and can sit through a cleaning with a hygienist. Unfortunately, this is often too late. Most children cut their first teeth by 6 months of age. So if they have their first dental visit at the age of 3 years, that first tooth would have gone unchecked by a dental professional for 2.5 years. A lot of damage could occur during that time, especially if the parents are not brushing the child’s teeth properly. Sometimes the unknowing parent will bring their 3 year old toddler to see me for the first time, only to find out that the child has several cavities. At this point, the child usually needs to be referred to a pediatric dentist to be put to sleep in order to fix the cavities or have teeth removed. Sedation is not without risks – though rare, the biggest risk is that the child does not wake up. A recent report by The Canadian Institute for Health Information found that early childhood caries (AKA “baby bottle caries”) is the leading cause of day surgeries for children ages one to five. This scenario could easily be avoided with early dental examinations and parental education.
So when is the right time for a child’s first dental visit?
At my office, I follow the guidelines set out by the Canadian Dental Association, which advises that a child’s initial dental examination should be done within six months of the eruption of the first tooth OR by one year of age, whichever comes first.
While some parents (and some dentists) might think it is a futile exercise to even attempt a dental examination on a writhing infant, it is quite possibly the best investment of time that parents can make in the oral health and general health of that child. Detecting cavities and oral conditions before they become major problems is only one of the benefits of this initial visit. Parents also learn proper brushing techniques and tips about how to better care for their children’s teeth. Dietary factors should be discussed as well as fluoride exposure to ensure proper nutrition and health of the child’s teeth. These early visits also allow the child to build a good trusting rapport with the dental team which helps to alleviate future dental anxieties.
Early childhood caries is a preventable disease. Proper diet, good brushing habits, and early dental visits will help lay the foundation of a lifetime of good oral health for your child.
Please share this widely to help educate parents of young children. Feel free to write any comments or questions below.
– Dr. Michael Banh