If your child's teeth have started coming in, you're probably wondering whether it's time to take her to the dentist for the first time. The official word varies: While the American Dental Association (ADA) says your child's first visit to the dentist should happen by her first birthday, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says you should take her when she gets her first tooth and no later than her second birthday. As if to confound you even more, the American Academy of Pediatrics says you can wait until your child's third birthday — unless she sleeps with a cup or bottle, sucks her thumb, or has other risk factors for dental problems.
What's a mom to do? With such conflicting advice from the experts, I thought it would be helpful to find out when other families start their kids on dental checkups, and why. Here's what I found.
Is There a Right Time to Start?
As with the doctors' and dentists' associations, moms' answers to this question vary widely. But there is a general consensus among Circle of Moms members that what's really important is that your child has a successful first visit so that she doesn't develop a fear of getting her teeth checked and cleaned. As Crystal D. says, "First impressions are everything."
Moms also say that there's no harm in starting dental checkups early, and that you should go ahead and do so if you think your child is ready. Can she sit still long enough to have her teeth checked and cleaned? Does she allow you to wipe her gums or clean her teeth? If so, she's ready when you are.
Early Starts, Tag-alongs, and Waiting to Age 3
Crystal D. suggests starting at age one even if your child has only a few teeth. She found that it worked well to ease her little one into the routine by taking her along on her own dental visit, which gives a toddler the chance to observe the process and meet the dentist. Carianne C., a Circle of Moms member who has worked as a pediatric dental assistant, says that the dentist she worked with encouraged "training sessions" before one year, followed by regular visits to monitor the number and growth of teeth. Training sessions can help both parents and kids acclimate to consistent brushing, which will prove to be important in upcoming years.
Daneen J.'s 13-year-old daughter has no cavities and likes going to the dentist. Her mom attributes at least some of this success to her daughter's early start with dentist visits, which began at 2 years. Age 2 was also the magic number for Laura M., in spite of the fact that her dentist said she needn't worry about scheduling an appointment for her daughter until age 3. When Laura insisted, her dentist began including her daughter in Laura's appointment at age 2 1/2.
Elisha tried to take her son in at age two, and after a quick inspection her dentist agreed with Laura's, that most kids can wait until age three for their first dental cleaning.
3 Tips for a Good First Visit to the Dentist
In spite of the lack of consensus here, all moms agree that whenever you do take your child to the dentist, it's important that the visit be a positive experience. Here are some tips for ensuring the best possible first dental visit for your child:
- Laura suggests scheduling your appointments back-to-back with your child's and with the same hygienist. Not only does this make dental visits more efficient for you, it can help your child overcome any fear of the dentist or hygienist, as seeing the same person working on your teeth will reassure them that tey won't be harmed.
- Christy H. points out that the chances of your visit going smoothly for your child will increase dramatically if you choose a pediatric dentist, since they are skilled at making children comfortable.
- Erin. L. recommends preparing your child by reading her a book about going to the dentist. There are many out there, but her favorite is Mercer Mayer's book, Just Going to the Dentist.
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