You and your baby managed to survive the first round of teething! Congratulations! But what do you do now that your precious nugget’s adorable little first chompers have finally emerged? Yes, brush them, but are dental visits really in the cards already? If you’re unsure you’re not alone! Here’s your guide to when to make that first appointment…and what to expect once you get there. 

When do children need to visit the dentist for the first time?

Sooner than you think! Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommend that your kiddo be examined by a dentist soon after their first tooth erupts…or within six months of their first birthday. Unfortunately, studies show that the average age when children actually first visit the dentist is three years old!

Perhaps this is because some parents are confused as to why a baby would need to see a dentist when their smile is only sporting one or two teeth. Here’s why:

  • Quells fears. When children visit the dentist early, they learn not to fear the dentist, which makes those future appointments go smoother.

  • Learn about dental care. Tots can learn early dental care habits that’ll help keep their teeth clean, healthy, and—fingers crossed—cavity-free.

  • Spot problems early. When dentists catch potential problems early, they can intervene before those issues become more serious.

Do children need to see a pediatric dentist?

Need? No. General dentists who enjoy kids can be a perfect fit. Just know that a pediatric dentist has two to three years specialty training following dental school and they only treat the smallest of patients. General dentists have about five weeks of training in treating kids.

How to prepare for your baby or toddler’s first dental visit:

Here’s the thing: Your tot has no reason to fear the dentist…theyve never visited one before! So, it’s up to you to set the stage for a positive experience. Here are some ways to do just that:

  • Get the timing right. Choose an appointment time for when your child is at their most alert, happy...and well fed. That means it’s best to avoid the dentist during nap or feeding times, when kiddos will likely be hungry and fussy.

  • Call ahead. Waiting is hard for little ones. Before you head out the door, make sure your dentist is on schedule.

  • Give a preview. If your child is old enough, talk about what they can expect, like the cool dental chair that goes up in the air and the fun sunglasses they get to wear. You can also play dentist at home, so your child can get used to someone looking at their pearly whites up close.

  • Do this ahead of time. To make that first appointment go off without a hitch, see if you can fill out any paperwork before the appointment so you can focus solely on your tot during the visit.

What happens at the first dental appointment?

Your tyke’s first visit to the dentist is primarily a meet-and-greet to get everyone acquainted. You can expect the appointment to last around 30 minutes, and you’ll spend most of your time answering questions about the following:

Your child’s dentist will also give a quick, no-stress first exam. Typically, your first-timer can sit on your lap while you lounge in the dental chair. This can work wonders for keeping littles calm, especially if they are nervous about a near-stranger peering into their mouth. During the exam, the dentist will:

  • Count teeth

  • Check for cavities and other dental issues

  • Assess development by looking at jaw, bite, gums, tongue, and the roof of your kiddo’s mouth

  • Clean teeth with a soft toothbrush if plaque is found to demonstrate brushing technique

  • Discuss a home dental-hygiene routine

Your child’s dentist might also offer a fluoride varnish treatment, which can help prevent, slow down, or stop tooth decay. (Fluoride is a mineral that works to strengthen tooth enamel.) The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that primary care physicians apply a fluoride varnish to all infants and toddlers starting when their first tooth appears (and through the age of 5), but if your child’s doctor hasn’t mentioned it, ask your pediatric dentist about it.

How often do toddlers need to go to the dentist?

Just like you, children should see a dentist once every six months. For toddlers, especially those who fear the dentist, it may be beneficial to inquire about visiting the dentist once every three months to establish trust and confidence.

 

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.