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When to Take a Child to a Dentist for the First Time

Rebecca Desfosse

Parents are often unsure about when to take a child to a dentist. Should you wait until all of his teeth have come in, or perhaps until there is a real problem? The experts say no. The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend that a child's first visit should be when the first tooth erupts in the mouth, no later than age one to two.

According to Dr. Anna Guarna, a Connecticut dentist with over twenty years of experience, this first visit isn't for doing any real work. It's really about introducing your child to the dentist's office, allowing him to explore various instruments and even take a ride in the chair. Only after your child is comfortable is it time for the dentist to take a quick peek at his mouth.

This first visit accomplishes three things. First, it familiarizes your child with the staff and the office environment in a non-threatening way, thus building trust. Second, it introduces him (and you) to the specific language that the office uses. For example, Guarna's office refers to a probe as a "tooth counter," gauze as a "tooth pillow," and the drill/hand piece as a "tooth sweeper" to take away the fear often associated with these items. Third, it allows the dentist to do a quick examination, looking for decay. He will also check your child's gums, jaw, and bite, keeping an eye out for bottle caries, frenum issues, or other problems that may affect teeth or speech patterns. The dentist will also probably talk to you about good oral hygiene and allow you to ask any questions you may have. You may even want to bring a list of questions to the appointment.

From the first visit onward, Guarna recommends that children come in every six months, unless an issue comes up that needs correction, such as a lisp, teeth grinding or mouth breathing. Expect the dentist to build on first visit and add a step at each subsequent visit. For example, at the second visit, the dentist may count your child's teeth and brush them with polishing paste, then possibly add in fluoride at the visit after that.

Depending on your dentist and your child's comfort level, you may be asked to hold your child while the dentist takes a look in his mouth. After the first visit, you may be asked to step outside so your toddler can gain a sense of independence and confidence and have the opportunity to get to know the dentist and staff on his own.

By the time the child is about three years old, he will be having full dental appointments. X-rays will be taken at five years of age if the child can handle it and it has been a good experience in the past.

Learn more about when to take a child to a dentist in the Colgate Oral Care resources.

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