It’s important to start dental care early. The American Dental Association recommends that a dentist examine a child within six months of the eruption of the first tooth and no later than the first birthday. Getting an exam at this age helps the child build a level of comfort with the dentist. It also gives you, the parent a feel for whether the dentist is a good match for your child – before he or she needs any dental work.
If you don’t make it to the dentist’s office by your child’s first birthday, try to do it before he or she turns two. Dr. McHenry “Mac” Lee, a third-generation dentist in Edna, Texas, says children between the ages of two and four who have never visited a dentist are at greater risk of having tooth decay and of developing a fear of going to the dentist.
Also, when children get a bit older, they confuse going to the dentist with a visit to their pediatrician. They remember painful immunization shots and become fearful that the dentist will hurt them too. Dr. Lee recommends you avoid using the phrase, “We’re going to see doctor.” If at all possible, try to avoid having your child’s first appointment be an emergency appointment. If a child has to get a shot or have a tooth drilled, right off the bat, he or she is likely going to grow up hating going to the dentist.
Even if your child is very young, tell him or her what to expect on the first visit: if it’s a “happy visit,” it may be no more than a ride in the dentists chair, a quick count of their teeth and perhaps a demonstration of how to brush. Reading books and watching videos about dental visits will also take away the guesswork. Consider bringing your child to one of your own appointments to see you having your teeth cleaned (but not having your teeth drilled).
Ideally, the first visit is all about preventing dental problems. The dentist or hygienist will give you age-specific brushing and mouth care tips and techniques. Concerns for very young children include “baby bottle tooth decay,” which is caused by prolonged contact with almost any liquid other than water. It occurs most often in the upper front teeth. Bacteria in the mouth use these sugars as food. They then produce acids that attack the teeth.
The dentist will also evaluate the fluoride in your child’s diet; fluoride strengthens the tooth’s enamel, but too much can actually disrupt the development of enamel in very young children