First visit by first birthday
Tips for your child’s first dental visit
- If possible, schedule an appointment for a time when your child tends to be rested and cooperative. Don’t schedule during nap time.
- Stay positive. Don’t show any anxiety that you might feel about dental visits.
- Never bribe your child to go to the dentist or use the visit as a punishment or threat.
- Make your child’s dental visit an enjoyable outing. Teaching your child good oral hygiene habits early can lead to a lifetime of good dental health.
Set up your child for a lifetime of healthy smiles by starting dental visits early. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association recommend that your child’s first visit to the dentist happens when their first tooth appears but no later than their first birthday. Baby teeth can start to decay as soon as they come in. It is important that your child is as comfortable as possible with their dentist so they develop healthy habits.
This first visit is a “well-baby checkup” for your child’s teeth. It’s best for your child to have a pleasant first meeting with the dentist. Don’t wait until pain or an emergency comes up to introduce them
to the dental office.
Baby teeth development
Baby teeth, also called primary or deciduous (de-SID-joo-us) teeth, usually start to appear in the mouth when a child is 6 months old. By their third birthday, most children have a full set of 20 baby teeth.
Baby teeth are important because they help your child to speak clearly and chew properly. They also hold space in the jaw and help form a path that adult (permanent) teeth can follow when it is time for them to come in. If a baby tooth is lost too early, it may cause issues like crow-fluidding when the adult teeth come in.
The chart below shows when baby teeth come in (erupt) and when they fall out (shed). Baby teeth will be replaced by adult teeth. However, not all children get the same teeth at the same times. Your child’s teeth may come in earlier or later than the times shown here.
Why it’s important to start dental visits early for your child
- Your child’s dentist can show you how to clean your child’s teeth and talk with you about the food your child eats and will be eating. He or she can also give you recommendations about the dental care products that are best for your child’s smile and answer questions about your baby’s teeth.
- Having a well-baby checkup at this age also connects your child to a dental home. This is the dental office where you will take your child from year to year. This helps the dentist get to know your child’s and family’s needs, so your child will have the best care.
- If your child is a toddler, the dentist will gently examine their teeth and gums to look for decay and other problems. The dentist may also clean their teeth. Your toddler can also be checked for problems related to habits such as thumb or finger sucking.
- Your child’s dentist can help you make sure your child is getting the right amount of fluoride (FLOOR-eyed), a natural mineral that helps prevent cavities and reverses signs of decay. It is commonly found in tap water and toothpaste.
- Dental sealants are another way your child’s dentist can help prevent cavities. Dental sealants are a coating that the dentist puts on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to protect them from decay. Your child’s dentist will let you know if these treatments are right for your child.
Baby teeth can get cavities
Sugar is in almost everything that a baby drinks, other than water. This can include 100% juices, breast milk and formula. Sugar left over from food and drink can turn into acid that can attack teeth. The acid can wear the hard outer surface of the teeth, called enamel (e-NAM-uhl), and cavities can start to form. This is not only painful but it also can be dangerous. Cavities are caused by an infection, which can get worse and even make your child sick if they are not treated.
Decay in Baby Teeth
Decay can destroy baby teeth if it’s not treated.
Healthy baby teeth
Moderate to severe decay
You can prevent decay in your child’s teeth
- After each time you breastfeed, wipe your baby’s gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth.
- Once your child’s first tooth comes in, be sure to brush their teeth with an infant toothbrush after each feeding.
Bottles, Sipping and Snacking:
- Don’t give your baby fruit juice until after they turn 1 year old.
- Don’t let your child sip sugary liquids (including juice drinks) all day. Limit sugary liquids and sweets to mealtimes.
- Never put your child to bed with a bottle or training cup.
- Avoid giving your child sugary, chewy or sticky foods like candy, cookies, chips and crackers. Give healthy snacks instead.
- Don’t put a pacifier or spoon in your mouth before giving it to your child. Bacteria in your mouth can be passed to them.
- Don’t dip a pacifier or nipple of a bottle in anything sweet.
Prevention is the key to a healthy smile!
Don’t wait to take your child to the dentist until pain or a dental emergency happens. Regular dental exams and professional cleanings can help your child have a lifetime of healthy smiles.
ADA Healthy Smile Tips
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Clean between your teeth daily.
- Eat a healthy diet that limits sugary beverages and snacks.
- See your dentist regularly for prevention and treatment of oral disease.
- For more information about taking care of your mouth and teeth, visit MouthHealthy.org, the ADA’s website just for patients.
- Initial decay photo courtesy of David M. Hassan, DMD.