Writing about dental for as long as I have means that I’ve heard the answer to this question a dozen or more times: “Take your baby to the dentist within 6 months of her getting her first tooth or by age one.” So when I finally had a baby and those first teeth popped in, I thought it was a no-brainer: I need to take her to the dentist.
But the responses I got from family and friends made me question that decision. They hadn’t taken their children to the dentist immediately after they got their first teeth. I received a few eye-rolls, some “She’s really overprotective” looks and a few: “You’re going to waste your money taking her to the dentist for just a few teeth?”
My decision to actually go to the dental appointment began to waver. Did I really need to take my baby to the dentist so soon? Should I wait until more teeth come in?
Using 1Dental’s discount dental plan, the trip was only going to cost me $19, so I thought I should at least make the visit.
I went ahead and took her to the dentist. He checked out her teeth and asked me some questions. To be honest, the trip seemed a little silly. Did I really need to spend $19 on this visit? Should I have waited until she had more teeth? I asked myself these questions over and over again while sitting across from the dentist, listening to what he had to say. I kept thinking about the responses I had gotten from the other moms.
In retrospect and upon further research of this topic, here’s what I found:
Should I take my baby to the dentist right after she gets her first teeth?
Yes, for a few reasons:
- It builds trust between my child and the dentist
- It gives me the opportunity to ask questions and learn about how to care for my child’s teeth directly from our family dentist
- It gives me a head start on preventing tooth decay
How Can a First-Time Dental Visit Do So Much?
While it may seem unnecessary, and while some of your family and friends may not understand the need for the trip this early in life, below are the reasons why it’s so important.
1. It Builds Trust Between Your Child and the Dentist
Beginning these routine dental trips this early may mean your child won’t develop a fear, or dental phobia, of the dentist. It could even become a fun experience getting to go. She’ll be more familiar with the staff and won’t immediately associate the dentist with bad experiences like having cavities filled or shots in the mouth. These first few trips, she’ll get to sit in your lap (or the dentist chair), let the dentist look at her teeth, possibly watch a cartoon, get a sticker and head home.
2. It Gives You the Opportunity to Ask Questions and Learn About How to Care for Your Child’s Teeth Directly from Your Family Dentist
When we take our children to the pediatrician, we ask their doctor questions about how to best take care of them. The dentist is the same. Taking your child to the dentist gives you the opportunity to ask questions about helping her brush her teeth, how to comfort her when she’s teething and more.
While there is a lot of information that can be found online about how to care for a child’s teeth (we’ve written a lot of helpful material for parents about caring for kids’ teeth), the dentist is still your best resource. That’s not to say we don’t want you reading our content (it’s still helpful!), but your dentist should be the one you check all of your information with and ask more complex and specific questions about your child.
For instance, at my baby’s first dental visit, I was reminded of the importance of fluoride for my baby’s teeth. Now I’m more aware and conscious about giving her some water throughout the day that has a little bit of fluoride in it. It’s such a simple step but with everything else we, as parents, do to take care of our kids, the simplest things can easily slip our minds if we’re not reminded of them.
3. It Gives You a Head Start on Preventing Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is more common among young children than any other chronic illness. This is the result of a few things:
- Too Much Sugar. There is more sugar in children’s diets at an early age than there used to be. Mutans streptococcus–the harmful bacteria found in the mouth that causes tooth decay–feeds on sugar. The less sugar we give our kids, the better protected their teeth will be.
- Lack of Fluoride. Bottled water has become more common, and it usually doesn’t contain fluoride. Fluoride helps protect our teeth from the harmful bacteria that causes tooth decay.
- The Passage of Germs. Parents are inadvertently passing these germs to kids by using the same spoon as them, sharing a personal toothbrush or letting the baby put their fingers in their parents’ mouth. I’m guilty of the first and the last of these. Don’t let guilt about that overwhelm you though. Starting now, limit how often or if you do this to help protect your kids’ teeth.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Association recommends taking your child to the dentist by his/her first birthday, as mentioned earlier in this post. If you wait until later, tooth decay may be well underway.
These early dental visits give the dentist an opportunity to look at your child’s teeth. They can quickly spot signs of decay before you can. Early detection means they can easily treat the tooth with a safe, protective fluoride varnish or help guide you in taking steps to protect your child’s teeth from further decay.
What Can I Be Doing at Home to Care for My Baby’s Teeth?
As mentioned above, dentist’s can guide you in how to care for your child’s teeth. In general, here are a few things you can be doing at home to help care for your baby’s teeth, starting from birth:
1. Clean your baby’s gums each day before their teeth even erupt. Use a clean, damp cloth to gently rub over your baby’s gums. Don’t apply too much pressure, and don’t worry about spending too much time doing this. A few passes over the gums will do.
2. Take care of your own teeth. Make sure you are doing everything you can to prevent the growth of bacteria in your own mouth. Also, don’t share utensils or toothbrushes with your baby or let her put her fingers in your mouth.
3. Limit your baby’s sugar intake. We probably all know about juice. Juice has a lot of sugar; that’s why my doctor told me to limit how many ounces of juice I give my baby each day. But did you know that breast milk and formula also have a lot of sugar? While you definitely can’t cut down on milk for your baby (whether it’s breastmilk or formula), there are a few steps you can take to help protect your child’s teeth in this scenario:
- Don’t let her sleep feed (and by that I mean, don’t let your baby feed and go to sleep immediately). I know how hard this one is. I’m guilty of this, too! However, I’ve been trying to make a more conscious effort to brush her teeth after feedings to help get off some of the sugar. If I don’t, that sugar will sit on my baby’s teeth throughout the night, causing decay.
- Wean her off the bottle by 14 months. The AAPD recommends this one. Prolonged use of the bottle can increase the risk of damaging teeth. Toddlers are usually drinking on the go. If your toddler has milk in a bottle that she’s walking around with, she is more likely to drink it throughout the day, creating more contact times between the teeth and the sugary content of the milk. The bottle is also a typical nighttime comfort for kids. This makes it hard to brush their teeth before they go to sleep; they’re usually already asleep when they finish drinking their bottle of milk.
- Substitute some of the juice for water (when she’s old enough!). This will limit the amount of sugar your baby is drinking and expose her to fluoride, which will help protect her teeth.
4. Help your child brush and floss their teeth. There are different methods for helping your child brush and floss their teeth depending on their age (Here are some helpful tips for tooth-brushing at each stage of life). No matter what age your child is, helping them brush their teeth will push bacteria, plaque and sugar off their teeth to prevent tooth decay.
Do you have questions about caring for your baby’s teeth? Leave them in the comments below! And share our article with other friends and family to promote awareness of the importance of these early dental visits.