Angie's List | At what age should you take your child to the dentist?

According to the American Dental Association, 75 percent of people have a fear of the dentist, and 10 percent of those fears turn into phobias. Take your child to the dentist early to ease any fears and teach them good dental habits.

When looking for a dentist you want to find someone who relates well to children so whether you are using a family dentist or a pediatric dentist the key here is finding someone that is gentle, relates well to the kids, and even talks in their language.

A pediatric dentist is the best bet for your child's first few dental visit experiences.  A pediatric dentist has the training and experience in working with kids. You'll want a dentist who is sensitive to your child's needs and can make the appointment as positive an experience as possible.

Remember to schedule your child for an oral health screening by her first birthday.

Pediatric Dentist Dr. Charles Poland says, "The gold standard is 12 months of age. We also know that there are some kids that are at a very low risk of tooth decay that don't need to start until their sometime between the age of 16(months), but surely by 19 months. Those are children that the pediatrician has done a tooth decay risk assessment for and found to be at an extremely low risk because of the various preventive dentistry things that are already going on within the family."

"It may be surprising to many parents, but the American Dental Association actually recommends that the child start visiting the dentist after they receive their first tooth or right after their first birthday. And what is key for parents to understand is that this can create really good healthy habits for their child's lifetime," Angie Hicks confirms.

19 month old Reagan Rehme's father, Clark,  tells us, "We decided to go ahead and bring her to the dentist at the age of 12-14 months because when we took her to her pediatrician for her yearly checkup they said we might want to look into going to a dentist and told us that there are plenty online that specialize on pediatric dentistry. We found on that we are real happy with and convenient so that's why we decided to take her into the dentist."

Angie says, "The vast majority of Americans admit to having some fear of going to the dentist and that is why it's important to introduce your child to the dentist before they have a chance to develop these fears so that they can get used to going to the dentist and feel comfortable."

When choosing a dentist for your children you want to do your research check their credentials, talk to  family and friends, check reviews and what other patients have said about them. Also, visit them and take your child with you to make sure your child is going to feel comfortable when they do actually have their cleaning.

Why are baby teeth important?

Healthy baby teeth:

  • Allow your child to chew and eat properly.
  • Help your child speak clearly.
  • Shape your baby's face.
  • Guide adult teeth into place.

Dental decay in baby teeth affects your child's overall health.

  • Cavities can be painful.
  • Cavities can interfere with your child's ability to eat well.
  • Dental disease can affect your child's overall health and development.

Don't put food, pacifiers, utensils in your mouth and then in your baby's mouth. Many parents "clean" pacifiers by putting them in their mouths and then giving them back to their babies, but cavity-causing germs are easily passed to infants and toddlers this way. Germs can also be shared when parents test food or share utensils with their child.

No matter how careful you are, your baby will get some of your germs, so keeping the germs down by taking care of YOUR oral health is important.

Clark Rehme agrees, "I think the most important thing for us to was, I didn't think about this, but a parents dental health is very important too because you can pass things on to her and all of a sudden I find myself carrying around more dental floss and trying to brush a little more then I normally do. Being a first time parent I find myself brushing quite a bit now more than anytime I was just a single guy on my own."

Get Started with Cleaning

Before teeth begin to come in, gently clean your baby's gums with a clean soft cloth after each feeding. This will help your baby get used to having their gums (and later teeth) cleaned.

As soon as your baby's teeth start to come in, begin to clean their teeth and gums with a small soft toothbrush and a smear of fluoridated toothpaste—about as big as a grain of rice.

Tips to Make Cleaning Easier

  • Try placing your baby's head in your lap to make it easier to brush. Gently stabilize your baby's head. Lift or lightly press your baby's lips away from the teeth.
  • Use a small soft toothbrush.
  • Brush every surface of your baby's teeth. Move the brush in tiny circles. You can use a clean damp cloth instead of a brush if you and your baby prefer.
  • Use a smear of fluoridated toothpaste—about as big as a grain of rice.

Make brushing

a positive experience. Sing songs or recite catchy rhymes with your child. You can even use a timer to let your child know when he or she is done brushing. Remember to use dental terms, like "toothbrush" and "toothpaste," to get your child used to hearing the words. Don't forget to model your own good brushing habits. Show your child that you practice the same healthy dental habits that you are encouraging your child to develop.

Choose your words carefully.   You may lapse into describing a dental visit as an unpleasant obligation, but the words you use to explain the experience can either create or dispel anxiety for your child. Avoid using words like ‘drill,' ‘hurt' or ‘needle.'  Keep the conversation positive and focused on the benefits of good dental health.  A pediatric dentist might tell your child he is going to shine his smile, count her teeth, or tickle her gums. 

Peer examples:  Some pediatric dental offices encourage kids to see other children under the dentist's care.  Older siblings who are receiving checkups can model positive behavior and set a good example at the office and at home.

Dr. Charles Poland affirms,"The first visit is really a just a wonderful time to introduce the child and the parent to what we call the child's dental home. A dental home should be some place that the child and the parent feel comfortable it should be accessible; it should be compassionate to the cultural needs of the family. Most of all it should be where the child can learn about dentistry and be taught to be comfortable in a dental office without all the fears and apprehensions that many parents still have."

"They learn that this is a fun thing that can  be made easy and not something to be fearful of. We always need support from the parents. Presenting the right terms to the child is really important. For instance, it's not uncommon for us to count the teeth we talk a lot about pizza chewers, bean biters, chicken nugget nibblers and we don't clean teeth here we shine smiles. It's all kept as a positive fun kind of thing," adds Dr. Poland.

Clark Rehme relates, "I am going to be honest with you, when I was a kid I would always throw up when I went to the dentist, actually it was pretty much a regular occurrence. You know you get to a point where I think especially pediatric dentists know how to deal with this and when you are a kid you don't really know what's going on so you just go with the flow. Anything that is different you don't like and you just kind of grit your teeth and bare it and it goes quick, but afterwards Reagan is always fine she cuddles up to the dentist and they make sure to give her a sticker and she likes that."

The National Maternal and Child Oral Health resource center says:

·         An estimated 51 million school hours per year are lost due to dental-related illness.

·         Children from low income families are at higher risk.

·         Early tooth loss from tooth decay can cause speech impairments, absence and inability to concentrate
          in school and lower self-esteem.

·         Toothaches can distract from testing performance, schoolwork, or social skills.

9 good dental health practices:

1.      Eat nutritious food instead of those high in sugar

2.      Have drinking water readily available throughout the day

3.      Any juice provided is limited to 4-6 ounces and served only in a cup

4.      Brush after each meal or rinse with water if brushing isn't possible

5.      Caregivers should always hold infants when feeding from a bottle—no propping of bottles or sippy cups

6.      As soon as babies can sit without support, switch from drinking from a bottle to a cup

7.      Start brushing teeth as soon as first tooth erupts

8.      To prevent cross contamination, store toothbrushes separately and keep separate toothpaste tubes for each child, or dispense from one large tube onto clean piece of paper to swipe on toothbrush

9.      Parents' dental health affects a child's in multiple ways.  Displaying good dental habits in front of
        children, along with not sharing food or drink will help keep children's teeth healthy

Dr. Charles Poland emphasizes, "We teach the parent how to brush the child's teeth particularly emphasis at the gum line. Then we talk a lot about diet and nutrition and the modern nutrition for kids under 3 or 4 is milk and water only if they have any kind of juice, chocolate milk, flavored milk it should be restricted to just 4-6 ounces given with a meal and that's all. Certainly never a bottle in bed that contains anything other than water. We know that this whole business about kids drinking so much juice which has essentially no real nutritional value really should be avoided and that is one of the major contributions to this early childhood tooth decay epidemic that we have.  When you think about 30 some percent of 3 year olds come to the dentist with tooth decay, already those are the kids you wish you'd gotten to at 12-15 months and had an opportunity

to talk to the parents about successful preventative dentistry ."


Print this article Back to Top