What to Expect at Your Child's First Dental Appointment

What to Expect at Your Child’s First Dental Appointment

Have you ever wondered when your child should visit a dentist for the first time? If so, you are among many parents who frequently ask the question. And like many parents, you may be surprised by the answer; “First visit by first birthday.”

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Dental Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children have their first dental check-up by their first birthday. It may be hard to comprehend what would happen at the visit when there are only a few teeth in the mouth, but dental problems can begin early.

More than 1 in 4 children in the US have had at least one cavity by the age of 4, so it is too late to wait until age 3 or 4 for the first check up and delay the benefits of preventive services. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

What should you expect for the first visit?

  • Typically, a quick appointment where most of the time is spent talking with the parent.
  • A series of questions to identify any risk factors that may impact the child’s oral health.
  • Be prepared to answer questions about your child’s medical conditions, diet and feeding practices, teething, habits such as pacifier or thumb-sucking, brushing, and exposure to fluoride.
  • An examination in a ‘knee-to-knee’ position.

In the knee-to-knee position, you and the dentist sit on chairs facing each other with your child sitting on your lap, facing you. You then lower the child’s head onto the dentist’s lap so you and dentist can see clearly into your child’s mouth and your child can look up at you.

The dentist will thoroughly assess the overall growth and development, teeth and oral tissues. If plaque is present on the teeth, the dentist may clean the teeth with a soft toothbrush and demonstrate the appropriate method for cleaning. Depending on your child’s risk for tooth decay, topical fluoride may or may not be placed on your child’s teeth. If your child cries during the exam that is normal behavior for the age and no need to worry.

After the exam the dentist will give you useful tips regarding:

  • Teething and development.
  • How to prevent cavities.
  • Proper use of fluoride.
  • Ways to prevent accidents and trauma to the teeth.
  • Diet and oral hygiene instructions.

This is a good time to make sure all your questions have been answered. Finally, based on your child’s risk factors and oral health status, a follow-up visit schedule will be recommended. Routine evaluations are recommended every 6 months.

If your family dentist does not feel comfortable seeing very young children, look for a pediatric dentist. Age 1 dental visit can help your child with a healthy smile for a lifetime!

Homa Amini, DDS, MPH, MS
Homa Amini, DDS, MS, MPH, is Chief of the Section of Pediatric Dentistry at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Dentistry with a dental degree and a master’s in public health. She received her specialty training in pediatric dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her interest is public dental health and health policy.

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