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The importance of a child’s first dental visit

Your child can experience their first caries as early as 3 years old. Because tooth decay has become a common issue among pediatric patients, both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommend that a child’s first dental visit coincide with the arrival of the first tooth and/or the 1-year age mark.

The goal is to prevent decay in pediatric patients before it ever has the chance to begin, and to create an environment in which your child feels safe in their care. Not only does preventive care help save your child from the painful effects of tooth decay, it also helps create a more positive experience related to oral healthcare overall. In fact, a child who doesn’t associate the dental experience with pain is more likely to have a positive opinion about going to the dentist when they’re older. And being able to screen a child as early as 1 year not only allows for preventive therapies and early treatment to begin sooner, it also benefits your child and family by helping to establish optimal feeding and oral hygiene habits from the very beginning.

Children’s dental health problems account for 52 hours of lost school on average and up to 30% more in healthcare costs for families. Decay, which causes pain, also can impact sleep, speaking patterns, and nutritional intake, all of which can lead to negative outcomes.

Here are some facts:

· Annual treatment costs for children who have their first dental exam by age 1 are significantly less than for children who see the dentist for the first time after the age of 3.

· Children who see a dentist by the time they are 1 year old are more likely to see a dentist on an ongoing basis.

· Children who are in the care of a dentist early on are less likely to require restorative or emergency visits that can be traumatizing.

· Children who are seen after the age of 2 or 3 have an increased risk for preventive, restorative, and emergency visits over time.

Overcoming the fears of a child’s first dental visit

When it comes to making a child feel comfortable in the dental chair, there are a few ways to overcome fears and set the stage for a kid-friendly experience. According to Parents magazine, a child might visit the dentist at least 10 times before they reach kindergarten, making these checkups not only essential but also a consistent part of their young lives.

Thankfully, there are some creative ways that both dentists and families can make the experience better for kids:

· Start early: The earlier the child is introduced to the dentist, the better prognosis for a healthy mouth. Starting early also means the child is introduced to the experience, giving them a chance to adjust to the new place, sounds, and experiences.

· Keep it simple: Don’t overload the child with too much information. It’s also important to stay positive and to avoid sharing “dental horror stories,” or mentioning treatments that may never happen (like getting a tooth pulled). Parents and dentists ultimately want to build trust from the start.

· Choose words wisely: Rather than referencing things like “pain” and “shots,” try taking a more fun approach, like telling kids that dentists check their smiles to see their healthy teeth.

· Pretend first: Some families play dentist before the real visit, only rather than the child being the patient, they are the dentist. Give them a toothbrush to help them count teeth. Another idea is allowing them to practice on a stuffed animal. The goal is to make them more familiar with the process in a fun way.

Creating a positive experience for your child’s first dental visit is important in setting the foundation for a lifetime of good oral health. By focusing on prevention and education, and ensuring your child feels comfortable in the dental chair, they can overcome their fears and enjoy their trips to Premier Dental.

Call our Omaha dental offices to make an appointment with a dentist who may be able to help you find out more about this topic, and improve your oral health.

Selected references

Menchaca RL. The Effect of Early Dental Care of Pediatric Patient Behavior [master’s thesis]. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University. 2016.

Merdad L, El-Housseiny AA. Do children’s previous dental experience and fear affect their perceived oral health-related quality of life (OHRQoL)? BMC Oral Health. January 16, 2017.

Roth Port D. 8 tips to help kids overcome fear of dentists. Parents. February 5, 2012.

Triplett OL, Dormois L. A child’s first dental visit. Decisions in Dentistry. February 13, 2019.