Taking care of your kids' teeth is as important as taking care of the rest of their bodies. Looking at your toothless wonder, it may be hard to imagine a life full of dental visits, orthodontia, and maybe even oral surgery (because wisdom teeth rarely behave themselves and often need to be removed) but they are all a reality and may come sooner than you might think. If you want to get an early start on dental health, you might wonder when your baby should see a dentist to make sure you don't get behind on their tooth care.
Within six months of those little white gems poking through their baby gums or when they are a year old, whichever comes first, you should schedule your baby's first dental appointment, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA says this is important because, "being proactive about your child’s dental health today can help keep his or her smile healthy for life." They even have a Find-A-Dentist tool to make it easy for you to locate one near you.
Ok, that sounds way earlier than you may have anticipated, but it really is in your best interest that you get this done sooner than later. Dr. Chris Kammer DDS, Founding Father of the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health and Spry Dental Defense expert, tells Romper that the 1-year mark is important because "bad habits can begin at early ages and the damage can be devastating and have lifelong health considerations as well as psychological challenges. It's so much better to prevent teeth problems as soon as possible and save time, money, tears and teeth!" And if your little one is early to the teething game, some babies can have up to 8 teeth by the time they hit 1, Dr. Kammer says, you'll want to schedule a visit before their first birthday.
And before you try to schedule an appointment for them at the same office you go to, you need to make sure your dentist is experienced and educated in the art of pediatric dental care. Some dentists bill themselves as "pediatric dentists," others as "family dentists." If you live in an area where you have the choice between the two, how do you know which is the right one for your baby? While a family dentist could certainly care for the dental health of your child, a pediatric dentist has two to three years of specialty training in pediatric dentistry and limits their practice to children and adolescents, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). Just like you could technically go to an internist with your baby, you know there are issues that are specific to children, so it's nice, when possible, to see a dentist who's aware of those things. Not to mention, pediatric dentists tend to be super sweet with kids and their offices are usually decorated in very colorful, kid-friendly ways.
If you don't have the money to take your child to the dentist, Baby Center suggests you reach out to your local health department because they may have info on dental clinics and other resources.
Like many experiences your child will have, their attitude about this will come from the non-verbal clues you give. Dr. Mark Burhenne, a family and sleep medicine dentist who has a blog called, "Ask The Dentist," suggested on his site that you should make your baby's first dental experience (and really all of them) a positive experience by appearing to be happy, bringing a few comforting toys, and talking with the dentist beforehand so you have an understanding of what to expect at the appointment. Dr. Burhenne said that most first appointments last between 15 and 30 minutes and include examining, "your child’s teeth, gums, jaw, oral tissues, and bite to ensure everything is properly forming and coming into place." The dentist may also clean their teeth if necessary, says Dr. Kammer, and give you proper instructions on how you should be cleaning your child's teeth.
If you're looking to educate your child more about their teeth, dental care, and dental visits, there are some adorable children's books you can add to their library. Maisy, Charlie, and the Wobbly Tooth; The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist; or Dora Goes To The Dentist are just a few titles to start. While your baby might be too young to fully understand the books or what's happening, it's always good to be able to read together and reading books to prep for an experience is a great habit to start. These types of books take the unknown and make it a little less scary.
Maisy, Charlie, and the Wobbly Tooth by Lucy Cousins
Going to the dentist often is listed as people's least favorite activity (clearly those people have never been to the gynecologist) but if you begin when your child is young, not only will it be the start of good dental hygiene, but it can become a friendly place they are eager to see. "Start the process of getting children accustomed to coming to the dentist before problems arise. Let's keep those dental visits positive and that will go a long way toward developing children's perceptions that the dentist is a comfortable place to visit," says Dr. Kammer.
Hey, it's worth a shot.