When Should a Child See a Dentist for the First Time?

Parents (and dentists, too) might differ on when a child’s dental care should begin. This guide from Flossy explains why starting early is best.

September 29, 2022
When Should a Child See a Dentist for the First Time?

It might seem a bit early, but a child’s first dental visit should take place soon after their first tooth appears — which usually happens between six months and one year of age. 

The reason your dentist might recommend a dental visit so soon is that it’s possible for cavities to appear shortly after developing the first set of teeth. Studies show that children as young as nine months can develop cavities. This is a serious problem as early childhood cavities are associated with a much greater risk of dental decay in the future.

In this article from Flossy, we’ll go over when you should schedule your baby’s first dental visit, how you can prepare for it, and ways to choose the best dentist. Read on for everything you need to know to keep your child’s dental health in optimal shape. 

When To Schedule Your Baby’s First Dental Visit

Your child’s first visit to the dentist should happen before their first birthday or six months after the first tooth erupts — whichever comes earlier. 

While we often rely on cues from our doctor on important milestones in our children’s health care, some surveys show that many parents don’t receive any guidance on dental care at all.

For instance, in one survey of 2,000 adults with children under five, over half didn’t receive any advice from their child’s pediatrician on when to start seeing the dentist.  

What’s more, amongst those parents, one in six believed that their children shouldn’t see their dentist until they were at least four years old. This is problematic because dental problems — such as tooth decay and gum disease — could develop at this age. 

By scheduling regular dental visits early on, any potential dental problems could be identified and treated before they develop into something more serious. Dental problems such as tooth decay are especially serious because infants may not be able to sit still for the procedure and may need to go under sedation or general anesthesia.

Another reason to schedule a dentist appointment early? Your child’s dentist could help you develop a home care routine for your child. It may be difficult to get some children to brush and floss their teeth regularly. Together, you and your dentist can find ways to make it happen.

In addition, your dentist could discuss ways to prevent common problems, such as baby bottle tooth decay and finger-sucking habits, and what to do if they develop.

How To Choose a Dentist for Your Child 

Your child’s pediatrician can give you a referral if you’re looking for a pediatric dentist. However, if you already have a dentist that you see regularly, then you can take your child to them instead.

Typically, pediatricians will be more prepared to deal with crying in the dental chair. Plus, they’re more likely to have a kid-friendly office, with toys in the waiting room and small rewards for a job well done. Your child’s pediatrician can address basic aspects of oral hygiene. In addition, they can apply a protective fluoride varnish to your child’s teeth. They’re trained to do this because many children do not have access to a dentist until a later age.

However, it is preferable to take your child to the dentist instead. This is because physicians don’t have the proper tools — such as dental X-rays — to identify early signs of tooth decay and treat it. Down the line, it can make it easier to keep up-to-date with dental appointments as you can schedule your child’s and your own appointments on the same date.

During the first visit, your child can sit on your lap during their dental exam. However, as you build up exposure, your child may soon learn to sit in the dentist’s chair alone — which can prepare them for future dental procedures.

Something else to consider is child dental insurance. Make sure that your child is enrolled in a dental insurance plan when their first tooth emerges. Because some health insurance plans have an enrollment period, you might have to wait a while if you don’t enroll your child in time. 

What Time To Schedule Baby’s First Dental Visit 

In general, it’s better to schedule the appointment early in the day in order to avoid anticipation anxiety — which is the dread we feel before an unpleasant event.

When scheduling your child’s appointment, make sure to pick a time when they’re well-rested — which will help them to stay in a good mood. If they have a regular naptime, pick a time well before or after it.

Of course, it’s best to make your child perceive their first dental appointment as something positive (which we’ll discuss in more detail below). Still, scheduling an appointment first thing in the morning can keep your child from getting nervous.

You can also try scheduling your dental appointment at the same time as your child’s. By going into the dental chair first, you can lead by example and show your child that there is nothing to be afraid of.

However, it might help to have another adult accompany you and your child. Most likely, you will not be able to have your child in your lap when getting a dental exam — or any other dental procedure. 

How to Prepare for the First Dental Visit 

  • Make going to the dentist fun
  • Explain good things will happen
  • Practice sitting in the dental chair
  • Eat something before the visit
  • Keep the mood light and positive during the commute
  • Make sure you fill out all paperwork

Once you have your child’s first dental appointment scheduled, you can start preparing for it.

Make Going to the Dentist Fun

Depending on your child’s age, you can talk to them about what’s going to happen. When you do this, make sure to be positive. It’s best to have your child associate going to the dentist as something fun.

Explain Good Things Will Happen

You can also explain the good things that will happen when they go to the dentist, such as having clean, sparkly teeth. It might help to follow this up with animated photos or videos of good teeth to stimulate your child’s interest.

Practice Sitting in the Dental Chair

Next, you can have your child practice being in the dental chair. Try to get them to practice opening their mouth by saying “ah” for a long time. You can even reward them if they do it for a long enough time. Another strategy to try is to watch videos of other children in the dentist’s office and explain everything that happens in it.

Eat Something Before the Visit

Before the appointment, make sure your child eats something so they’re not cranky during their dental exam. However, have them brush and floss afterward so they don’t have food debris on their teeth.

Keep the Mood Light and Positive Before the Commute

On the way to the appointment, make sure to keep the mood light and positive. You want your child to make positive associations with going to the dentist. If you can offer them a reward at the end for a job well done, then that can further improve how they view going to the dentist.

Make Sure You Fill Out All Paperwork

Last, make sure that you’re prepared, as well. Many dental offices have an option to fill out your paperwork online. It’s better to get this out of the way before the appointment so that you can focus on being with your child in the waiting room.

What To Expect From the Dentist

Your dentist should discuss your child’s home care routine with you. However, it won’t hurt to bring a list of questions along with you.

There's a possibility of your child developing problems such as a thumb-sucking habit or tooth decay from bottle-feeding. Your dentist can give you advice on how to prevent these conditions, such as by cutting out refined sugar from your child’s diet.

Make sure that you schedule a follow-up appointment so that you don’t end up missing it accidentally. Most children should see their dentist once every six months — which is the same recommendation for adults.

However, how often your child should come for a dental appointment depends on their dentist’s advice. Some children may be at increased risk for dental problems. For this reason, your dentist might want to see them for check-ups as often as every three months. 

How To Care for Your Child’s Teeth at Home 

  1. Clean their gums after eating
  2. Watch their diet
  3. Watch their diet for sugary foods
  4. Be aware of bottle-feeding
  5. Monitor your child’s brushing and flossing

Clean Their Gums After Eating

Before your child’s teeth come in, you can clean their gums with a damp cloth after eating. When their first teeth emerge, you can begin brushing with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush that’s made for babies. Make sure to use a very small amount of toothpaste as this can prevent swallowing.

When your child is old enough to learn to spit, you can switch over to fluoridated toothpaste. This can help to strengthen their tooth enamel and protect them from early tooth decay.

Watch Their Diet For Sugary Foods

Another way to prevent tooth decay is through diet. It is well-known that sugar feeds the bacteria that are implicated in plaque and tartar — which are bacterial deposits that damage the teeth and gums. 

As such, it’s best to avoid giving your child sweetened juice, milk, or any other sugary beverage. Of course, this also includes high-sugar foods, such as white bread, pastries, and ice cream.

Be Aware of Bottle Feeding

Another factor associated with increased risk for tooth decay is bottle-feeding. Many studies have found an association between bottle-feeding and tooth decay. However, breastfeeding is associated with a decreased risk of tooth decay.

While researchers are still trying to uncover the reason for this, one possible explanation is that breast milk contains antibodies. These can reduce the growth of bacteria that are responsible for tooth decay. If breastfeeding is not possible, then try to limit how much time your child has with the bottle to a maximum of five minutes.

Monitor Your Child’s Brushing and Flossing

Your child’s at-home routine might require some help from you. Make sure to monitor their brushing and flossing habits until they are set in stone. Some best practices include brushing for at least two minutes, using a soft-bristled toothbrush to prevent abrasion, and flossing consistently.

What To Do Next

Your child should see a dentist as soon as their first tooth erupts. Once that happens, it’s best to come in for a dental appointment every six months — which you can schedule along with your own dental check-ups.

If you’re looking for the best dentist for your child, then Flossy can help you find a dentist with experience treating children — at a fraction of the cost of most other dentists. Find your ideal dentist with us today.

Sources:

Delayed start to dentist visits: Parents need provider prompt | National Poll on Children's Health

Baby bottle tooth decay (BBTD): Issues, assessment, and an opportunity for the nutritionist | ScienceDirect

Developmental Disabilities and Oral Health | National Institutes of Dental and Craniofacial Research

Positive association between sugar consumption and dental decay prevalence independent of oral hygiene in pre-school children: a longitudinal prospective study | PMC

Breast and Bottle Feeding as Risk Factors for Dental Caries: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis | NCBI