When should I take my child for their first dental visit?

When should I take my child for their first dental visit?

The Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that every child should be seen by a dental professional within six months of the eruption of their first tooth, or by their first birthday.

This may seem rather early, however according to the Centers of Disease Control, they report that dental decay is perhaps the most prevalent infectious disease in our nation. More than 40 percent of children have dental caries (cavities) by the time they reach kindergarten. Caries in primary (baby) teeth can affect a child’s growth, resulting in significant pain and even potentially life-threatening infections.

The primary goal of the early visit serves many purposes, to check for dental decay, tooth or jaw abnormalities. New parents may seek counseling on such topics as pacifiers, baby bottles, sippy cups, thumb habits or nutritional counseling. It also helps the child to become accustomed to this new setting.

For children under the age of three, the dental examination consists of something called a “lap exam.” This is done with the child being gently held by the dental assistant, laying the child into the dentist’s lap. The parent stays in view of the child during this exam. Even though your child may cry or be a little wiggly, there is no discomfort at all. This visit is very short in duration.

It is best to refrain from using any words to your child that may sound fearful. Telling your child that “the dentist is going to count your teeth” is usually sufficient at this age. A prize and toothbrush usually bring smiles at the end of the “happy visit.” Children are individually assessed for the need of X-rays, usually to check for any abnormalities, missing teeth, extra teeth or decay.

Children may be seen by a general dentist or a pediatric dentist. Why would I recommend a pediatric dentist or practice? A pediatric dentist has an extra 2 years of specialized training and is dedicated to the needs of children from infancy through adolescence. They are highly skilled in treating special needs children with medical issues or even children that are just fearful.

Pediatric offices generally have smaller chairs and kid-friendly areas. It’s all about a correct fit for your child. As an analogy, most of us start our children in a good pre-school, not college. The same is true for starting a good dental foundation. If done successfully, your child will grow into a happy dental patient with little fear, or none at all.

About this Angie's List Expert: Dr. Diane Kelly was born in Pennsylvania and began working as a pediatric dental assistant in 1973 and became a licensed dental hygienist in 1979. She graduated from the Temple University School of Dentistry in 1997 and completed a pediatric residency in June, 1999. She currently practices pediatric dentistry in Atlanta. Dr. Kelly is an active member of the American Dental Association, Georgia Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and Northern District Dental Society.

As of December 5, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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