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A Child's First Dental Visit Fact Sheet

When should your child first see a dentist? You can take your child at a younger age, but experts recommend taking him or her by about 12 months at the latest.

At this time, the dentist can give you information on:

  • Baby bottle tooth decay

  • Infant feeding practices

  • Mouth cleaning

  • Teething

  • Pacifier habits

  • Finger-sucking habits

Prepare your child

If possible, schedule morning appointments, when young children are alert and fresh.

Prepare a preschooler or older child for the visit by giving him or her a general idea of what to expect. Explain why it is important to go to the dentist. Build excitement and understanding.

Prepare yourself

Discuss your questions and concerns with the dentist. Remember that your feeling toward dental visits can be quite different from your child's. Be honest with your view of the dentist. If you have dental anxieties, be careful not to relate those fears or dislikes to the child. Parents need to give moral support by staying calm while in the dental exam room. Children can pick up parents' anxieties and become anxious themselves.

Prepare the dentist

At the first visit, give the dentist with your child's complete medical history. For a restoration visit, such as getting a cavity filled, tell the dentist if your child has stubborn, defiant, anxious, or fearful traits in other life experiences.

Watch how your child reacts.  Many parents are able to anticipate their child's possible response to certain situations and should inform the dentist. Certain behaviors may be linked to the age of your child:

  • 10 to 24 months. Some securely attached children may experience developmental separation and become upset when taken from their parents for an exam.

  • 2 to 3 years. A securely attached child may be able to cope with a brief separation from parents. In a 2-year-old, "no" may be a common response.

  • 3 years. Three-year-olds should not be expected to accept separation from their parents for restoration treatment procedures, such as getting a cavity filled. This is because most 3-year-olds are not socially mature enough to separate from parents.

  • 4 years. Most children should be able to sit separately from parents for exams and treatment procedures.

The first visit

Your child's first dental visit is to help acquaint your child with the dentist. The first dental visit is recommended by 12 months of age, or after several baby teeth have erupted. The first visit usually lasts 30 to 45 minutes. Depending on your child's age, the visit may include a thorough examination of the teeth, jaws, bite, gums, and oral tissues to monitor growth and development. If needed, your child may also have a gentle cleaning, which includes polishing teeth and removing any plaque, tartar and stains. The dentist may show you and your child proper home cleaning, including flossing, and advise you on the need for fluoride. Because baby teeth fall out, X-rays aren’t usually recommended for diagnosing decay. X-rays are used to see if the root of a jammed baby tooth may be affecting an adult tooth. In general, it is best not to use X-rays in young children unless absolutely necessary.

The second visit

Like adults, children should see the dentist every 6 months. Some dentists may schedule more frequent visits, every 3 months, to build comfort and confidence in the child, or to monitor a development problem.

Protect your children's teeth at home

  • Before teeth erupt, clean gums with a clean, damp cloth.

  • Start brushing with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and a very small amount of toothpaste - about the size of a grain of rice, when your child's first tooth appears.  Use a pea-sized dab of fluoridated toothpaste after 3 years of age, once the child is old enough to spit out the toothpaste after brushing.

  • Prevent baby bottle tooth decay. Don't give children a bottle of milk, juice or sweetened liquid at bedtime or when put down to nap.

  • Limit the time your child has a bottle. Your child should empty a bottle in 5 to 6 minutes or less.

  • Help your child brush his or her own teeth until 7 to 8 years of age. Allow the child to watch you brush, and follow the same brushing pattern to minimize missed spots.

  • Avoid foods and treats that increase tooth decay: hard or sticky candies, fruit leather, and sweetened drinks and juice. Offer fruit rather than juice; the fiber in fruit tends to scrape the teeth clean, whereas juice just exposes the teeth to sugar.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eakle, W. Stephan, DDS
Online Medical Reviewer: Roux, Susan L., ARNP
Date Last Reviewed: 3/20/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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