If you’re anything like most parents living in the U.S.A, chances are you won’t take your baby to the dentist before they’re 2 years old, with the average age for their first ever dentist visit being at 2.6 years.
However, if you were to ask anyone who works in the dental field, they’ll tell you that’s way later than recommended. They could have easily developed cavities by that age if they still haven’t gone to the dentist by their second birthday … yikes!
It’s not enough that you properly brush your baby’s teeth as soon as their first tooth erupts, you need to setup an appointment at the dentist’s office for them as soon as possible too.
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), a child should have their first ever visit to a dentist no longer than 6 months after their first tooth grows. For most babies, that’ll mean that a visit to the dentist should have been done by the age of 1.
After your little one’s second birthday, experts recommend that you schedule an appointment for them at the dentist’s office once every 6 months. It doesn’t need to be any more frequent than that unless any dental problems arise.
What Happens If I Put Off Taking My Baby To The Dentist?
Plaque Buildup & Cavities
Whatever you do, don’t put off taking your child to the dentist’s office till after their second birthday.
Doing that significantly increases their chances of having plaque buildup and getting cavities.
Normal Mouth Development
A very common misconception many parents have is that they don’t really have to look after their baby’s first teeth because they’re going to fall out soon enough.
In reality, this could not be further from the truth.
Your kid’s permanent teeth are developing right under the ones that will eventually fall off, and having a dentist check up on them at the very early stages helps ensure that development is going according to plan.
If there’s anything wrong or development is taking more time than it should, a competent dentist can pick up on this way before your child’s first teeth fall off and permanent ones come through.
If there’s anything wrong with your child’s gums, jaw or bite, problems can be detected (and solved) with early inspection.
If left unattended, though, it’s more likely your child will develop problems with their speech patterns.
What Happens At My Baby’s First Ever Dental Visit?
Caring For Baby’s Teeth
If there’s ever a chance for you (as a parent) to get to know how you should properly care for your child’s teeth, it’s during their first ever visit to the dentist’s.
They’ll tell you all about the basics such as brushing your baby’s teeth twice a day, when to start flossing and how to floss their teeth, where to go from here and every how often you’ll need to schedule an appointment for them, as well as other pointers and tips that set you on the right path.
This is the perfect opportunity for you to learn about good oral hygiene in one of the most important phases of your child’s life, as well as a chance for you to ask any questions you may have about anything related to oral hygiene that you need cleared up.
Answering Any Questions You Might Have
It’s probably a good idea for you to jot down a list of questions on a paper and bring it with you to the appointment so you don’t forget to ask anything there and regret it after you leave.
Have any specific questions about the teething phase and everything that comes along with it?
Notice that your baby’s relying on their pacifier too much and are having trouble weaning them off of it? Afraid they’ll develop pacifier teeth? Or, have they developed pacifier teeth and you have no idea what you need to do about this to help?
A pediatric dentist can help answer all these questions you might have, and more.
Getting Used To It All
A child’s first visit to the dentist’s office isn’t really about getting any work done, it’s mainly meant to get them used to the place.
It’s a perfect opportunity for them to get introduced to the dentist’s office, get a feel for the place, have a look at the various equipment (possibly even touching a few under the dentist’s supervision), and hop on the chair to get acquainted with it.
The difference getting this “introductory phase” right and skipping past it is night and day when it comes time for your child’s mouth to be examined.
Gradually Building On From There
After your child’s first ever visit to the dentist’s office, they’ll build on that with every following visit.
For example, if the first visit was all about getting introduced to the dentist himself/herself, getting introduced to the staff who work there, having a look around, etc .. the second visit might involve new activities such as the dentist counting your child’s teeth and brushing them in a non intimidating way, for example.
It’s all about building on what was achieved in the first visit until they’re actually ready to sit on that chair and have their teeth examined.
How Can I Calm My Baby Down At The Dentist?
If you’re taking your baby for a dental visit when their first tooth comes through (younger than 1 year of age), you probably don’t have much to worry about right now.
Most babies this age won’t show much signs of nervousness when at the dentist’s office, mainly because they’re still too young to have any idea about what’s going on.
However, if you’ve put off taking your child to the dentist for their first ever visit for way too long and they’re now 2 years of age, chances are they’re going to be anxious about it and you’ll have to help calm them down.
Here’s a list of useful tips you can implement to help calm a child who’s becoming more and more aware of everything going on around them before they have their first ever dental visit.
Take Them With You
Before it’s actually time for you to take your child to their first ever dentist appointment, it’s a good idea to take them with you for your next checkup.
If you can take them with you to two checkups you have at the dentist’s office before it’s actually their time, that would be best.
That way, they’ll be somewhat used to the place before they have to sit on that chair, and watching you have your teeth checked on and cleaned a couple of times gives them a sense of security and eases their fears a little bit.
Play Dentist & Patient
What better way to prepare your child for their first ever visit to the dentist’s office than to play dentist and patient?
The key, though, is to keep it entertaining and avoid doing anything that might scare them.
That way, your child won’t feel overwhelmed with a completely new experience when it’s time for their dentist examination. Instead, it’ll kind of feel like a deja-vu – been there, done that!
If you’ve talked about this with your own dentist and you know for a fact that they’re perfectly capable of dealing with young kids your child’s age, then that’s fine.
However, if your child is extra fearful or you’re anything like me and want what’s in their absolute best interest, then you should definitely consider taking them to a pediatric dentist instead.
Not only do pediatric dentists specialize in dealing with and caring for young children who are still new to these experiences, they also specifically set their offices up in ways that appeal to young children.
Toys? Check! Yummy candy as a reward at the end of the visit if your little one was a good baby boy or baby girl? Check! An office designed with all sorts of colors that appeal to kids and make them feel they actually want to be there? Check!
Be There Next To Them
This is going to depend on your child and how comfortable they are around people they newly meet, as well as the dentist and how skilled they are in dealing with young kids – but it’s sometimes a good idea for you to be there next to your child and comfort them as the dentist has a look inside their mouth.
You can even try sitting in the dental chair yourself and have your child sit on your lap in case they’re not yet physically able to or still not comfortable sitting in the chair alone.
If you’re worried about your child being too uncomfortable during the process, trust that a pediatric dentist can tell when a little bit of crying and excessive movement in the chair is normal, and when it should be left for another day because the experience is too overwhelming for your little one.
Talk To Them About It
Talk to your child about what they should expect going to their first visit, what’s going to happen, etc ..
Try to make it sound like fun and get them to look forward to it (without lying, of course, because that’s only going to make you look bad).
There are plenty of books you can read to your child (or picture books you can see with them) about going to the dentist – and some of these books really help in minimizing the fear factor.
You could even watch a few fun videos with them about first dental visits on YouTube.
Awake, Well Rested & Energized
You and I might not care about what time we schedule a dentist’s appointment for ourselves during the day, but the same is not true for a young kid.
If you’re taking them for their first visit to the dentist’s office, make sure it doesn’t conflict with their nap time.
A sleepy child is only going to be cranky and non-cooperative … definitely not what you want to happen in any new experience.
Also, make sure they’ve had something to eat before their appointment so they’re not low on energy when the time comes to have their teeth checked. Again, a hungry child won’t be cooperative, much (as in at all).
Wrapping It Up
So, to conclude, you shouldn’t wait until all your kid’s teeth come through before you take them to the dentist for the first time, nor should you wait until they have a dental problem that needs to be addressed.
Take them for their first visit to the dentist’s office within 6 months from the day their first tooth comes through, or by their first birthday – whichever comes first.
Oral hygiene and dental care are key to ensuring your little one has a beautiful smile when they grow up later on in life, so don’t put this off for too long!