Parents may not realize that their child’s first visit to the dentist should take place much earlier than they might expect. Children should visit the dentist by their first birthday or six months after the first tooth erupts, whichever occurs first. But don’t assume that a child’s first visit to the dentist is going to include all of the things that an adult oral health well check includes. Early visits to the dentist are structured quite differently, and specialized pediatric dentists are skilled at making children’s oral health care fun, stress free and thorough, all at the same time.
It is important not to delay a child’s first dentist visit. Many parents believe that around age four is when a child’s first visit should take place, but by that age poor brushing habits may have already developed and damaging decay could already be taking place. You pediatrician will likely do a cursory mouth dental exam during your child’s well checks in their office starting in infancy, but this is not a substitute for specialized dental care. If you need help locating a child-friendly pediatric dentist, as your pediatrician for referrals.
Initial visits to a pediatric dentist are designed to be comfortable for parent and child. Pediatric dentists encourage children to practice good oral hygiene such as brushing and flossing. They gently introduce children to the tools used in a dentist’s office. They encourage ongoing conversation about good dental health choices. And they are usually well-supplied with stickers, toys and other treats to inspire good oral care.
To make children (and parents!) feel more comfortable, some pediatric dentists allow children to sit on a parent or caregiver’s lap while their teeth are counted and a gentle exam takes place. Pediatric dentists will remind children and parents of good practices such proper brushing techniques or foods and habits to avoid to prevent damage to emerging teeth. Children should brush their teeth (with help) as soon as teeth emerge. All ages should avoid sugary drinks, but little ones should not be allowed to fall asleep with a bottle, which can further tooth decay.
Dentists might also give advice on general nutrition, may examine mouth size to aid in early detection of future concerns (such as the need for orthodontics or wisdom teeth removal), could monitor speech development or provide support for concerns like thumb sucking.
Introducing your child to the dentist at an early age not only helps alleviate fear of the dentist, it also promotes healthy oral care habits and allows for early detection of problems or concerns. Consult with your pediatrician or ask for referrals from family and friends to find a pediatric dentist that is a good fit for your family. Helping your children established good oral care habits and avoid fear of the dentist will lead to healthy smiles for years to come.
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