Baby’s First Visit

Posted on April 22, 2016
One of the most frequent questions that I hear as a pediatric dentist is, “When should I start bringing my child to the dentist?”  The answer:  around the time of your child’s first birthday. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Dental Association all recommend that children have their first dental visits and establish a dental home around the time of their first birthday.

A dental home is a place where comprehensive, continuously accessible, coordinated, compassionate oral health care is available and delivered by qualified child health specialists. Establishing a dental home is a more cost-effective and higher quality oral health care alternative to emergency care situations because dental problems can be prevented or detected before they develop into more serious conditions. Also, the dentist is able to coordinate oral health care needs among dental specialists, pediatricians, ENTs, and other medical specialists.

After I tell parents to bring in their one-year-olds for dental exams the comment that often follows is “but my child doesn’t have many teeth yet”. This may be true but the purpose of the first dental visit for a young child goes much deeper than just taking a look at the teeth. While I enjoy looking at the child’s teeth, much of the benefit of the first dental visit actually comes from talking with the child’s parents. The focus during the first dental visit is to gather information that can be used to create a preventive program that addresses the unique issues that affect a young child’s oral health. I do this through anticipatory guidance where I assess a child’s risk factors for oral disease, anticipate the potential oral health problems that a child may encounter based on these risk factors, and guide the parent towards ways to avoid these potential problems.

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Both my assistants and I do a lot of talking with the parents at the first visit but I do also like to look at the child’s teeth. Baby teeth are important even though they will be lost because they allow for proper eating, space positioning for permanent teeth, and help proper jaw bone development. The infant and toddler exams take place in private rooms where I am able to bypass the potentially intimidating exam in a dental chair in favor of a more comforting “knee-to-knee” exam. For a knee-to-knee exam, the child sits in his/her parent’s lap and the parent can lean the child’s head back towards the dentist’s lap for a quick examination of the teeth and jaws. This allows me to determine if there are any signs of dental disease present and I can even sometimes make some early predictions on the need for orthodontics in the future. We can also demonstrate proper brushing technique for your child so that you can keep his/her teeth properly cleaned at home. Our ultimate goal for the first visit is to make your child associate the dental office with a friendly, welcoming environment for future visits.