Many patients ask me when should their child begin seeing the dentist. The answer to this question is not always clear as The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child should see the dentist by 1 year of age, and the AAP recommends that a child see the dentist by their 3rd birthday (unless they have risk factors for having problems with their teeth).
In my practice, I start talking about dental hygiene from infancy when I discuss fluoride and encourage parents to use tap water when making formula (most cities have fluoride added to their water, but you should check) or to dilute juice (if you are giving the baby any juice at all).
When the baby’s first tooth erupts, a parent can wipe off the teeth with a soft washcloth. Parents should also never leave a bottle in a baby’s crib or nurse their child throughout the night as this may lead to early cavities in the first teeth. I recommend getting a child a toothbrush when a child is 12-15 months old and let the toddler begin to brush their own teeth and mimic their parents or siblings who are brushing their teeth. You can use a “smidge” of toothpaste with fluoride but don’t let your child just “eat” big globs of toothpaste because they like it. Too much fluoride can be a problem too. They also make fluoride free toothpastes if you are concerned.
Pediatric dentists encourage parents to floss their children’s teeth in the early years. Funniest story, a mother took her 3 year-old son to the dentist and the hygienist asked her if she had been flossing the little boy’s teeth. They call flossing “jumping rope”. She told her that of course she had been. About that time the hygienist took out the dental floss and the little boy promptly said, “what’s that?” Mother “busted” by her own child. We can all appreciate stories like that.
Many dentists will do what is called a “lap visit” for the first few visits when they let the mother hold a 1 or 2 year old and the dentist will just get the child comfortable opening their mouth or looking at the instruments. For most children their first cleaning starts at their 3 year old visit. Dental visits are then scheduled every 6 months.
Because of good dental hygiene I have many patients who are cavity free even as they enter their teen years!! Wish I could have said the same thing for myself.