Parents often have the misconception that they should bring their kids to the dentist only when there is a problem, the most common complaint being dental pain. Most of the time, dental pain originates from poor oral health leading to dental cavities, which when left untreated can lead to significant pain, gum or even facial swellings, difficult emergency department visits and unnecessary hours spent in the hospital.
How early should my child see the dentist?
Multiple national health care organisations now recommend that the first dental visit should happen by the age of one. (AAPD, AAP, BSPD, ADA).
Why the age of one?
This is important so that early prevention and identification of dental disease can be done, maximizing conservative and non-surgical management of dental caries. Most children will have some of their baby teeth by this age. Parents need to be aware that with every passing year where dental visits are delayed, the more likely the disease will worsen, requiring dental treatment which the young child may not be able to cope with, without the use of more resource intensive behavior management techniques such as sedation and general anaesthesia.
What to expect at the first visit?
These visits will often be short and informal visits, more of a meet and greet for your child and the dentist. Depending on what your child is comfortable with, the dentist will have a look at your child’s teeth and discuss some risk factors. The best way to look into the baby’s mouth is often through a knee to knee or lap to lap examination. The baby is lowered backwards from your lap to the lap of the dentist, which gives the dentist a better view of the baby’s mouth. It may also involve you sitting in the dental chair and holding your child.
What happens if my child doesn’t open his/her mouth?
Don’t worry if your child doesn’t want to open their mouth. Depending on the risk factors for getting tooth decay, the dentist may choose to defer the check up to another time. Our goal is to establish a pattern of attending dental appointments from a young age. With regular visits, hopefully your child will want to open his/her mouth at the next visit.
What else happens during this visit?
The main aim of this visit is to provide an opportunity where both the dentist and parents/ caregivers can exchange information on the child’s’ oral health. Information with regards to oral habits, feeding practices, mouth cleaning, teething, use of pacifiers and dental injury prevention can be tailored to each child’s age and development. It is important that honest feedback is given with regards to dietary and oral hygiene practices at home in order that good preventive plans can be put in place. These conservative therapies can help delay or prevent the need for future invasive dental procedures.
How do you prepare your child for the dental visit?
Where possible, schedule appointments where your child is more alert and fresh. Often, this will be in the morning after a good night’s rest. A child in a chirpy mood will go miles in making their first dental visit a pleasant one, and the establishment of a dental home from a young age. It is important that parents and caregivers stay positive and keep to themselves any anxiety they have about dental visits. As the saying goes: “Train a child in the way they should go, so when they are old they will not depart from it.” The earlier good habits are put into place, the less risks for the need for complicated procedures in future.
Stay tuned for our upcoming series on how to take care of your child’s baby teeth, pacifiers- yay or nay?, fluoride: friend or foe?
References: AAPD. The importance of the age one dental visit UK National guideline. Dental check by one ADA. Your child’s first dental visit.
AAPD: American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry AAP: American Academy of Pediatrics BSPD: British Society of Paediatric Dentistry ADA: American Dental Association