On average, a child will have a full set of baby teeth by the age of three, but there are several reasons to take your child to the dentist sooner. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and American Dental Association (ADA) both advise that children visit the dentist by their first birthday.
The importance of oral health to your child’s development and long term wellness have been well-documented. Beyond having an increased risk of cavities as adults, children who have tooth decay are at risk for a more difficult life.
The National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center has found that poor oral health in children can negatively impact their “quality of life, their performance at school, and their success later in life.” The best way to get a solid foundation in caring for your child’s teeth and setting him or her up for a lifetime of good oral health is to make an early trip to the dentist’s office.
…But One Year-Old Seems So Soon
If you’re struggling to imagine your one-year-old sitting still for a dental exam, you may find yourself putting this important visit off. However, this appointment is largely about creating a good experience for your child to set the stage for future visits and ongoing care.
In this visit, your child can sit in the dentist’s chair and get familiar with the dental office. Pediatric dentists often have toys, books, and puzzles available, which can help create a positive association with visiting the office.
Importantly, this visit is also an opportunity for you to learn best practices for caring for your child’s teeth. You and the dentist will discuss at-home care, nutrition, and more.
…But They’re Just Baby Teeth
One reason many parents put off a child’s first dental visit is the false belief that baby teeth don’t really matter. After all, they are going to fall out and be replaced with adult teeth. This misguided mindset likely contributes to the fact that over 40% of kids have tooth decay by the time they are kindergarten-aged.
Though temporary, baby teeth play several key roles in your child’s development. It is important to care for these teeth as if they are permanent to prevent pain, costly dental treatments, dentophobia, health problems, and more. If baby teeth are neglected, issues can arise with:
From the moment they erupt, baby teeth are susceptible to decay and caries just like permanent teeth. Baby bottle tooth decay is decay that commonly affects a baby’s upper front teeth. This condition can result from giving your baby a bottle when he or she goes to bed. Beverages other than water contain sugars that promote bacterial growth. In severe cases, a cavity can result in an abscess, which can have serious and even fatal consequences.
· Proper Nutrition
Adequate nutrition is essential for your child’s cognitive growth. Baby teeth allow children to chew and process food for the nutrition they need to develop. If baby teeth decay and cause pain or are lost prematurely, your child may not be able to eat the healthy foods he or she needs.
Baby teeth are important for speech development. Your child will struggle to make certain sounds if teeth are missing or if oral pain interferes. Speech impairment can cause your child to have low self-esteem and difficulty interacting with others.
· Long-Term Oral Health
Early dental visits mean that any potential threats to your child’s oral health can be identified before they become serious, painful, and potentially expensive problems. Bite issues, decay, and infections are easier to treat if identified early. Similarly, your dentist can advise you regarding pacifier usage or finger-sucking issues that can create orthodontic and speech issues.
…But I Hate Going to the Dentist
Dental anxiety in adults is often a result of negative dental experiences as a child. A painful toothache or dental procedure can foster a negative association with dentists that some people are unable to overcome.
If you are a dentophobe, you likely want to protect your child from the pain and fear you experienced. Preventative dental checkups and excellent home care are crucial to keeping your child’s mouth healthy.
…But I don’t Know How to Prepare for the Visit
Set your child and yourself up for a successful visit by planning ahead. You can take these steps to help your child feel comfortable in the dentist’s chair.
· Build excitement — Find fun ways to introduce the idea of going to the dentist. There are many children’s books and videos that introduce going to the dentist in a positive light. Use these resources as a way to get your child curious about going to the dentist. Play out a mock dental visit with your child as another way to present the visit as fun and easy.
· Control your anxiety — If you have dental anxiety, take care to mitigate it. Your child can pick up on your feelings, so do your best to be calm and encouraging.
· Schedule smartly- Book an appointment during a time that your child is typically alert and happy.
With an early start, a little preparation, a commitment to home care, and a positive attitude, you and your child can get on the path to long term oral health.