Your Child’s First Visit to the Dentist?
A 2009 survey of American children’s oral health determined that a majority of children don’t see a dentist until they are over 2 years old. Of those children who had visited a dentist, the average age of their first appointment was at 2.6 years. Even more concerning, the study also found that 34% of children up to age 11 had never seen a dentist!! So we ask again, what’s a good age for your child’s first visit to the dentist?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child go to the dentist by age 1 or within six months after the first tooth erupts. Primary teeth typically begin erupting around 6 months of age and children can expect a full set of their primary teeth around 2 ½ years old.
Primary Teeth are Not Just Disposable
As the permanent dentition erupts, the primary teeth loosen and eventually fall out. This begins around age 6 with the lower incisors and continues through age 9-12 for the posterior teeth. The importance of keeping these teeth through proper oral hygiene and regular dental visits cannot be overstated. Not only do the primary teeth help children eat properly and maintain proper nutrition, they also are important in speech development and help preserve the space for permanent teeth. Losing a tooth prematurely due to cavities can lead to improper eruption of the permanent dentition which may require extensive orthodontics.
A study found a statistically significant relationship in the prevalence of cavities in the primary and permanent dentition. Of children who had a cavity in their primary teeth at 5 years old, 81.4% had at least one cavity in their permanent dentition!1 Between the ages of 6 and 7, a child should have at least 6 permanent teeth and possibly up to 10! This means that waiting to provide proper dental care to children can have consequences that will stay with them throughout their entire adult life!
What’s the Solution
The best solution is to prevent the problem before it arises by scheduling your child’s first visit to the dentist as their first teeth begin to erupt. The longer you wait, the more anxious a child can become about their visit, especially if they already have a tooth that is hurting them. Familiarity with the office, the staff, and what to expect are the most important aspects of your child being comfortable at their first visit to the dentist. What can you do to make their visit more comfortable?
- Bring them early. Watching you or an older sibling have their teeth examined will show them that the dentist office is not a big deal. Also visits prior to their own appointment will help them become familiar with the office and staff.
- Make it a game. Take turns examining each other’s teeth so that your child will be familiar with a dental exam. Challenge them to see if they can brush as long as you or a sibling and see who has the whitest teeth afterwards.
- Educate them. Read a story book about a dentist, watch a video, or play a dental game online to teach them the importance of going to the dentist and keeping their teeth clean.
SKEIE, M. S., RAADAL, M., STRAND, G. V. and ESPELID, I. (2006), The relationship between caries in the primary dentition at 5 years of age and permanent dentition at 10 years of age – a longitudinal study. International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry, 16: 152–160.