There is really nothing cuter than your baby’s highly anticipated first tooth! After weeks of waiting, each little tooth that pops through the gums is a cause for celebration, and for some parents, it may cause a little anxiety. I mean, how in the world is a parent supposed to keep those little pearls healthy when their kids will eat an entire bowl of cat food but will not touch a single green bean? Or when grandma and grandpa find great humor in stuffing the kids full of chocolate and ice cream when they visit? Every. Single. Time.

For moms, this is the stuff nightmares are made of. The thoughts of having our children’s baby teeth full of cavities, fillings and possible crowns is no laughing matter. It is no wonder why parents are stressing about their kiddos oral health. Most of us know that preventative care is the best solution for maintaining healthy teeth, but what we may not know is “When is my child old enough to go to the dentist?” Do you wait until they start school or do you go as soon as you see the first signs of eruption?

What is the Right Age for Your Child to Visit the Dentist?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child be seen by a dentist sometime within six months after he or she gets their first tooth and before the age of one. To break it down, it basically says that if your child’s first tooth erupts from the gums at five months of age, then a dentist appointment should be scheduled by the time your child reaches eleven months. Some people include the procedure for dental implants during this period. But, if your child does not get that first tooth until nine months of age, you will want to schedule the appointment sometime between the time of eruption and their one year birthday.

*Note: Some children do not get their first tooth until after their first birthday. This is normal and you should go ahead and schedule an appointment with the dentist even if they do not have any teeth.*

Your child may seem a little young to be going to the dentist, but beginning proper care early will help with issues such as speech development and ensuring there is enough space for permanent teeth. Your child will most likely be scared, so it is a good idea to prepare them (and yourself!) ahead of time. Read books, play a game, let your child go with you for a cleaning and reassure your child that the dentist is a friend and not someone to be afraid of.

What Should You Expect at Your Child’s First Visit?

The first dental visit is designed to help parents understand the link between childhood habits and maintaining excellent health for your child’s teeth. Let’s take a look at some of the topics that will probably be discussed during that first visit:

  • The best way to care for your child’s teeth, gums and mouth from infancy into toddlerhood.
  • How to properly use fluoride.
  • The effects of prolonged pacifier use or thumb sucking on the teeth.
  • How your child’s diet will impact his or her oral health.
  • Tips on preventing accidents that can damage teeth.
  • Milestones you should be watching for and when to contact the dentist if there is a problem.

Paying attention to these details will help you in preventing early childhood cavities and gum disease. You will also be able to ask any questions that you may have that are specific to your child, and the dentist will show you how to properly brush, floss and give overall care for your child’s teeth and gums. After this first visit, the dentist will suggest a schedule of follow-up visits. Dentists typically schedule visits every six months, but the schedule may vary according to each child’s needs and risks.

While there may be a varying timeframe of when your child should visit the dentist, one thing is certain: “Your kids should visit the dentist BEFORE the tooth fairy visits them!” You do not want to wait until your child has cavities or other problems that may cause them to lose a tooth (whether on their own or an extraction by the dentist). While going to the dentist may be scary at first and your child may cry, it will not compare to the serious problems and pain that decayed teeth can produce. It is much easier to begin visiting a dentist before a problem exists.