Many parents of infants and toddlers are well-versed on the suggested timeline of well-child visits with their doctor.
But many of them – if not most – are not aware that their child should see a dentist by age one. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Dental Association (ADA), and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) all recommend a dental visit no later than baby’s first birthday.
You may be wondering why a child with few teeth would need to see a dentist. And what happens at this first appointment anyway? Children aged 3 and under who are seeing a pediatric dentist for the first time have a lap exam.
The hygienist will clean the child’s teeth with a toothbrush while the child is leaning back on the parent’s lap. Fluoride varnish may be placed on the child’s teeth.
They’ll discuss the child’s diet and how it is affecting their teeth, brushing habits and best practices, and any other habits that may impact dental development (such as thumb-sucking or pacifier use). This is valuable information and an important discussion, as all these things directly affect a young child’s teeth! Establishing healthy habits early is integral to preventing decay and maintaining oral health.
The pediatric dentist will complete an exam. (Depending on the child’s age and dental health, exams may only be needed yearly until the child reaches age three, when six month intervals are then recommended).
This early visit with an examination, combined with good dental habits and dietary practices, can prevent, slow, or even reverse the dental decay process in children. In fact, a 2014 study reported by Pediatric Dentistry confirms that children who visit a dentist by age one have 3.5 fewer cavities!
Dr. Mark Shaw, pediatric dentist and partner with First Impressions, says, “The discussion with parents on brushing, eating and drinking habits is nearly as important as the initial exam of the child. We want to set children up for success!”
This discussion, cleaning, and exam may be especially helpful when in a pediatric dental office. Seeing a pediatric dentist – a dentist who receives two to three years of additional training and education that focuses on the growth and development (both physically and emotionally) of children – can be especially helpful when trying to establish these lifelong healthy dental habits. When a child feels comfortable and empowered in their dental home, they are more likely to accept treatment and follow through with the healthy habits they are taught.