Dentist by 1 – Your Child's 1st Visit

Posted on February 7, 2013 in In the Community

As a dentist and a mother, I'm often asked the question, “When should my child first see a dentist?” My answer usually surprises people. Children should see a dentist by age 1 or within six months after the first tooth comes in. A simple rule to remember is “first visit by first birthday.”

You may think because your child's baby teeth will eventually fall out, that caring for them is less important. This isn't true. Baby teeth help your child chew and speak properly, hold space for permanent teeth and are good predictors for the future health of permanent teeth.

Some good news is that tooth decay is nearly 100 percent preventable. But it can develop any time after teeth appear in the mouth, starting around six months of age. And by age 1, your child may already have eight or more baby teeth. Waiting until your child is two or three years of age to visit the dentist just isn't a good option.

Benefits of an early dental visit

A visit by age 1 may seem young, but it lets you and your child develop a relationship with a dentist, which can help set a foundation for good oral health and detect potential dental problems before they progress. Your little one could have pain in one of his or her teeth, but may be too young to tell you.

The first dental visit is simple and really acts as a well-baby checkup for your child's teeth and mouth. It typically includes an examination for normal growth and development, checking for cavities and educating parents on good oral health care. This may include information about brushing and flossing, diet and nutrition, the use of fluoride and prevention of cavity-causing bacteria passing from parent to child.

And, there's an added bonus of getting your child to the dentist at age 1. Not only can early preventive dental care ease pain and suffering from unchecked dental problems, but it can also save in future dental treatment costs. Studies have shown that dental costs for children who have their first dental visits before age one are 40 percent lower in the first five years than for those who do not see a dentist prior to their first birthday.

What happens at a child's first visit?

At the first checkup, the dentist will:

  • Examine your child's teeth for early signs of dental decay.
  • Assess your child's bite, facial growth and development.
  • Demonstrate brushing and flossing techniques and discuss the use of fluoride.
  • Provide information for trauma prevention.

Help local children get oral health supplies

If you visit and pledge to take your child to the dentist by age 1 or to regular visits for older children, the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation will donate an oral health kit to a local, underprivileged child as part of its “Dentist by 1” campaign. You will also receive a kit and will be entered into a monthly drawing for an electric toothbrush. The kits include a toothbrush, floss, toothpaste and a children's oral health tip sheet.

Dr. Katina Morelli, DDS, is the dental director for Delta Dental of Illinois and a dentist at South Barrington Dental.