kidlist welcomes Dr. Eric G. Jackson, DDS, MAGD, FICOI, FICD, FADI as a guest contributor
Without a doubt, one of the questions I most often get asked is “When should I bring my child for their first dental visit?” Parents often receive conflicting advice due to the multitude of sources and opinions available these days. With this article, it’s my intention to provide you the facts and reasons behind the recommendations to allow you to determine what is best for your child.
“So when DO I take my child for her first dental visit!” A traditional “cookie cutter” answer to this question has always been “around the age of three” but times, and recommendations, change. I feel strongly that the modern, proper answer to this question is very family and patient specific. If forced to choose one specific age, I agree with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). According to their website, the AAPD advises a child’s first dental appointment should occur “when the first tooth appears, or no later than his/her first birthday.” At first read, this may sound a bit crazy or self-serving to many of you…and that’s understandable! The average patient in my office possesses what I term a very high “Dental IQ.” For over 30 years patients have been receiving quality dental care and dental education from my office and have in turn passed that along to their children and grandchildren. They understand what steps it takes to maintain a healthy mouth and just as important, WHY these steps are important to take.
Unfortunately, the average dental patient nationwide does not have a high Dental IQ. To many people even basic concepts such as the importance of regular dental cleanings and quality brushing/flossing techniques are foreign. Usually these people have not been educated as to WHY dental care, especially pediatric dental care, is important. A classic example of this is the patient who thinks their poor family dental history purely dictates their own dental history. Often, they are resigned to the inevitability of having all their teeth extracted and dentures made. This mentality often causes a lackadaisical attitude about oral hygiene and eventually becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Even more disappointing, this mentality is often passed from generation to generation. It’s just not true! Just because your parents and grandparents had dentures by the time they turned 30 does not mean that you are destined for the same fate! The field of dentistry as well as dental technology is always evolving!
It may also surprise you that numerous times throughout my career I have been asked “Why do I have to brush my child’s baby teeth if they’re just going to fall out eventually?” There are numerous good answers to this question but two of the most significant are cavity prevention and laying the foundation for a lifelong appreciation for good oral hygiene practices in the child. The AAPD’s recommendation is clearly devised to educate the PARENTS of the child and stop the cycle of dentally uninformed generations from propagating their beliefs. I completely support the concept of what I call “Early Intervention, Early Education.” This concept is the primary reason for the 6-12 month recommended first appointment, and is why the focus is on discussion and less on cleaning.
Perhaps the most severe result of lack of early intervention is termed “Baby Bottle Tooth Decay.” This serious condition affects far more children than you might think, and has severe repercussions on not only the baby teeth, but the permanent teeth and the patient’s outlook towards dentistry as well. In much the same manner that prior generations put babies to bed on their stomachs, they also would commonly give babies bottles in their cribs at night. These children would drink throughout the night and continuously bathe the teeth in sugary liquids such as milk, formula, or juice. As a result, decay rapidly progresses through the teeth, especially the front teeth on the upper jaw because that’s where the sugary liquid first hits the teeth and remains overnight. Pictures of this can be seen below. This devastating condition is perhaps the foremost reason that new parents should bring their child for a dental visit when the first baby tooth erupts. By reaching new parents at this time, dental professionals can educate prior to any damage to the teeth.
So when should a parent with high Dental IQ bring their child in for the first time? If parents have had an “Early Intervention, Early Education” appointment with an older child, they will often just ask about any updates at their own hygiene appointment, and defer the newest child’s appointment to an age when a traditional dental cleaning can easily be completed. For most children, this is around the age of two or three years old. Every child is different and some acclimate to the dentist at different rates.
This is why over 20 years ago we at Oral Health Care Professionals, LLC created “Tooth Fairy Day” and host it twice per year. This complimentary day is open to the public and serves as a low stress high fun method of desensitizing preschool age children to visiting the dentist. By attending Tooth Fairy Day, children acclimate to the dental operatories, to sitting in the dental chair, to having air/water squirted, and most of all, to having a stranger examine their teeth. Each of these things is very foreign and can be quite scary for a child. Even young patients that are hesitant at Tooth Fairy Day flourish at their first cleaning appointment as much of the “newness” has been removed from the equation. For a video and more information about Tooth Fairy Day, please visit my website at www.EricJacksonDDS.com/tooth-fairy.html.
Pediatric dentistry topics are immensely important and as the father of two young girls (5 & 6), are especially close to my heart. If you would like to speak about pediatric topics, or any other dental topic, please feel free to call the office and schedule a complimentary appointment with me. Various pediatric topics are routinely covered in my office newsletter and past copies are available for download on my website: www.EricJacksonDDS.com/quarterly-newsletter.html. I am extremely passionate about modern family dentistry and sincerely love discussing it with patients, so please do not hesitate to contact me.
This post brought to you by Dr. Eric G. Jackson.