Last updated January 7th, 2021
I don’t know about you, but for us, visiting any doctor with my 3-year-old is a real nightmare. Picture multiple kicks, holding her down, and endless heartbreaking cries. With time, we stuck with the strictly necessary. By that, I mean important vaccines and sick-time visits. Whenever our pediatrician said something was not really urgent or mandatory, I removed it off my list of to-dos. So imagine my anxiety levels when we had to go to the dentist. Any adult would tell you a dentist visit is anxiety-provoking, so when it came to my daughter, I was really worried. Oral hygiene has always been of high importance to me, however, and I insisted on hers being perfect from the start. As it turns out, if you choose your dentist well (i.e. one who gets kids and handles the visit gently) and prepare your child beforehand, everything can be more than okay.
Every professional you ask will tell you a child’s first visit to the dentist should be around his first birthday. Even though we think primary teeth are not as important as adult teeth because they eventually fall out, the truth is they matter just as much. Not only does having good oral hygiene from the start sets good habits for the future, but it also prevents gum disease and tooth decay. It is important to regularly take your child for dental check-ups, prepare them for their visits, establish proper oral hygiene at home, and be aware of all the important symptoms that could mean your child needs to see a dental care professional.
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When should I take my baby to the dentist for the first time, and why?
The American Association of Pediatric Dentists recommends taking your baby to his first dental checkup by the time he turns one or as soon as their first teeth begin to come out. To all parents, this age seems really early and they feel like they have so much else to take care of than their baby’s oral health checkup.
Us parents also tend to consider that our pediatricians do the whole check-up every time (which can be true, but oral health is made to be checked by a dentist). That first visit to the dentist is important as it helps make sure your child’s first teeth are coming out properly, to rule out potential signs of tooth or gum decay and ensure proper oral health.
Primary teeth also play a huge role in a baby and toddler’s ability to develop speech properly, as well as learn how to chew by putting the appropriate pressure on their gums and teeth without any pain. Making certain sounds and forming words have also a lot to do with our teeth.
All of those reasons combined, call for an early visit to the dentist. Better be safe than sorry has been my motto for the last 3 years! Who else relates?
What happens at my baby’s first dentist appointment?
Before taking your baby or toddler to the dentist, they will need a lot of preparation. Here are a few tips on how to get your baby or toddler ready for the dentist and make the experience the less stressful possible for you both:
- It is always best for them to be familiar with the environment first. So if you’re planning on getting a check-up as well, why not take your child with you on the day of your appointment? They will get to see that this is something normal and start getting familiar with the tools and sounds.
- Read stories or watch videos of their favorite characters visiting the dentist. They usually take them through the process step by step and inspire them to do it themselves. Peppa Pig has certainly eased my daughter’s anxiety towards dentists.
- My favorite one ever is to play “Pretend”. This has worked wonders with every big step we’ve had to take. Using a stuffed animal or a doll and assigning the role of the dentist to your child will help them internalize the whole concept and accept it. Anxiety reduced!
- Explain the whole process clearly – even imitating the sounds they will hear – and reassure them with lots of affection and a surprise at the end. I’m a big fan of rewards for emotional efforts.
- When you schedule the appointment, make sure it won’t be at a time when they’re hungry, sleepy, or agitated. Make sure they are well-fed before and have snacks on hand for when they are done.
Now, when you’re actually there, this is how it usually goes. Your dentist will probably conduct a knee-to-knee exam, where your baby will be sitting on your lap and his oral exam will be done. He will examine and clean your baby’s teeth, detect tooth decay (if any), and discuss overall oral hygiene as well as recommend an appropriate toothbrush and toothpaste.
Always ask any question you might have as professionals are always happy to help.
Start good dental habits
Good habits always start at home. Proper oral hygiene should be part of every daily routine and the earlier you start, the better. Kids who are used to healthy habits as part of their daily life tend to practice them effortlessly throughout their lives.
So as soon as you spot your baby’s first tooth, get that age-appropriate toothbrush and get brushing. Low-fluoride toothpaste can be used as soon as you start brushing those first teeth as you can find a healthy toothpaste adapted to every age.
A toothbrush and toothpaste adapted to your child’s age and used twice a day will go a long way to remove plaque bacteria that could potentially lead to tooth decay.
Signs your child may need to go to the dentist
I’m sure most parents have the same habit of checking their child’s mouth whenever possible. I know I have a habit of observing my daughter’s teeth whenever we’re talking or when she’s singing out loud.
Before your child is 7, morning and bedtime oral care routine should be supervised and even active on your part. It is also advised you to brush your teeth together with your child so that they can observe and learn the proper techniques.
Taking part in their routine will also allow you to spot any potential oral hygiene trouble that could require you to visit the dentist. Here are potential signs your child may need to go to the dentist:
- They complain about toothache or pain. Calling the dentist for an appointment as soon as possible would be wise as any condition spotted early can be addressed.
- You notice white or brown spots on your child’s teeth. This could be a sign of a cavity beginning to develop.
- Your child’s gums are irritated. This could indicate a start of gingivitis. A dentist will be able to advise you on what to do in this case.
- Your child complains about dental pain when he has hot or cold drinks or food. This could also mean he might be getting a cavity, so having your dentist check it is a good idea.
These are more common in toddlers or older children. Having proper oral hygiene and frequent check-ups can help prevent such troubles.
FAQs – More about your little one’s oral hygiene
What happens if my toddler swallowed fluoride toothpaste?
The amount of toothpaste that has to be used for a toddler is normally pea-sized. If they swallow that much, the worst that can happen is for their stomach to be upset.
However, a larger quantity swallowed can lead to gastrointestinal problems so it is always better to pay attention and maybe keep it out of reach as well.
When does a baby’s first tooth normally appear?
A baby’s first tooth can appear as early as 4 months and as late as 14 months. It will take until they are two years old for them to have their complete set of teeth.
No need to worry about a “normal” here because every baby is different.
How do I deal with a child’s toothache?
After having called your dentist and booked an appointment, rinse the irritated tooth area with warm saltwater. If their face is swollen, place a cold compress on it. You can also give children medicine for pain and wait till your dentist treats it.
It is normal to feel overwhelmed with everything we need to take care of as parents. It all needs proper organization and surrounding ourselves with competent professionals who can give us excellent advice and help us make sure our precious little ones grow up happy and healthy.