The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children have their first dental exam at 12 months. Children begin erupting their primary, or “baby” teeth, around 6 months of age, and therefore should be seen by a dentist soon after in order to detect problems early. We call the first visit a “Happy Visit,” with more talking, show-and-tell, and playful interaction to get the kids used to the environment and have a positive first experience. Behaviorally, children tend to do well if mom or dad brings them along to one of their own dental cleaning appointments before making the child their first appointment, so the child can see how it goes and get comfortable with the care provider. This is most effective between ages 1 and 2. You know your own children better than anyone else, and will be the best person to decide when they are ready to try their first visit.
Children need help and supervision brushing their teeth until around age 6, or until they have the manual dexterity to tie their own shoes. Making tooth brushing a fun, enjoyable part of the regular daily routine will encourage kids to have good dental habits once they are able to do it on their own. Nutrition plays a critical role in an individual’s dental health, as does genetic vulnerability to the bacteria that cause decay. Avoiding snacks and drinks at bedtime is wise, including bottles of milk or juice, which both contain natural sugar.
Toothpastes and mouthwashes for kids come with and without Fluoride, the anti decay ingredient in most commercial dental products. Fluoride plays a necessary crucial role in home care for preventing dental decay, but can be harmful if swallowed. Only a pea-sized dollop of toothpaste is needed. It’s recommended that parents evaluate whether or not their children can “spit” excess toothpaste into the sink once they are done brushing to check if they are ready for the pea-sized dollop yet. For the younger kiddos who are unable to spit yet, it is still very important that fluoridated toothpaste is used as soon as the first tooth appears; however, limit the amount to that of the size of a grain of rice.
Many adults tell us that their own fear and dislike of the dentist were stemmed from uncomfortable or bad experiences as children. It is our goal to avoid repetition of this pattern for all of our pediatric patients! We love to see kids, and love to help them establish a happy, healthy relationship with their healthcare providers. We use many different methods to create a fun yet calming environment for pediatric patients so that no matter what they are here to have done – whether it be a simple cleaning or a more involved procedure – they enjoy themselves and see that there is nothing to be fearful of at the dentist. After most appointments in which a child has had anesthetic injections, the doctor asks the child, “Did you know you had 2 shots?! You are so brave you didn’t even feel them!!” The child typically looks shocked and is amazed at their own bravery. This is not to say that some children will not experience the anxiety that can be felt in healthcare settings, but we handle each case individually to help the child have successful dental visits.