What Age for the First Dental Visit?
First Dental Visit is usually a “Happy Visit”
The age recommended by the Academy of General Dentistry, the Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and the American Dental Association for the child’s first dental visit is one year. The primary goal of the first visit, often called a “happy visit,” is to begin to familiarize both the parent and the child with the dental office. A slow and progressive process is always beneficial in the long-run. The first few visits for the child often set the tone for the patient’s entire life, so this process is extremely important. Other important issues are to check for rampant decay, often called “bottle mouth,” developmental defects, gum disease, chronology of tooth eruption, and tooth malalignment caused by a pacifier or finger sucking.
The child may or may not be co-operative at their first visit. It is important that progress be made at the child’s rate, and not that of the dentist or the parent. All children are different and all exams and treatment must suit the child. Morning appointments are superior to ones in the afternoon for achieving good results. On younger children, it is often necessary for the child to sit in the parent’s lap during the examination. But as the child gets older, say by 42 months, it becomes even more important that the
dentist develops a one-on-one relationship with the child, and the parent may be asked to wait in the reception area. The best interests of the child are always paramount. If the parent insists on being present, they should not use words like hurt, needle, shot, blood, x-ray, etc., and should never promise the child a gift if they are good. The child sees right through this immediately. The dentist and his staff know what to say and more importantly, what not to say. Any negativity felt by the child towards the dentist is brought on by the parents by saying the wrong thing. Otherwise the child should not know anything.
Remember that the dentist and his staff know by experience what is best for your child. They will often ask your child a question to which they already know the answer. It is not helpful for the parent to repeat the question and to then answer the question for the child. This happens quite often and is not beneficial in developing a relationship! Children can be wonderful patients if the parents will just let them. They are amazingly smart!
At a very young age, the parent should begin brushing the child’s teeth with a very small tooth brush and a very tiny amount of toothpaste, as the child will surely swallow it. When the teeth first erupt, a small piece of gauze may be used to wipe the plaque off the teeth. Malalignment of the teeth may begin to occur if the child uses a pacifier or sucks his fingers for too long. This usually self-corrects if the habit does not last past age 4. A bottle of milk or any sweetened liquids should never be given at bedtime. This might lead to rampant decay or “bottle mouth.” Water is acceptable. There should be only a very minimal amount of sweets for a young child.
Your child will be teething from about 4 1/2 months up to about 3 years of age. The time of eruption is not as important as the chronological order. In most cases, especially girls, all baby teeth have erupted by age 2. A cold teething ring is often recommended for the tender gums through which the teeth erupt. It is these tender gums from which the patient gets some relief by putting things in their mouth and chewing. A cold teething ring is cleaner and superior to other items.
Treating a child with decay at age one or two may require pre medication. If rampant decay is present, general anesthesia may be required and all the teeth will be treated at once. This fact gives more credence to having an exam at age one or so. Prevention of decay by dental cleaning, fluoride, and reduction of sugar must begin immediately. Remember, it may be best for the parents to be present up to about age 3, but after that the children will be encouraged to show independence.
Build excitement about going to the dentist, even to the point of saying something like “if you are good at home, then I will take you to the dentist!”. This makes the child look forward to going. Most offices will give the child a treat of some kind such as a toy or balloon. The child will like this very much and associate it with a fun time.
Just so you know, the attending parent is being evaluated at the same time as the child.
American Dental Association-Life Member, Fellow of Academy of General Dentistry, American Academy of Implant Dentistry