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When Do Children Need to Start Going to the Dentist?

By Meg Brannagan ; Updated June 13, 2017

The age of a child's first dental visit should occur earlier than some people think. Although a baby is not born with teeth, oral hygiene is important to protect the gums and foster a healthy environment in which teeth can grow. Taking a child for a dental visit early in life and continuing to maintain regular dental appointments shows him the importance of caring for his smile.

Early Teeth

A child’s first teeth begin to erupt around the age of six months, although the exact age may vary up to 12 months. Teeth slowly begin to come in during a process known as “teething,” and a baby may show excessive drooling or fussiness during this time. Children have 20 primary teeth by the age of three years, and even though they will eventually lose these and get permanent teeth, it is still important to practice good oral hygiene.

Time Frame

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, a child should first visit a pediatric dentist when her first tooth erupts, and all children should be seen by a dentist by one year of age. Children should have dental visits every six months or as often as recommended by the dentist for the child’s specific mouth condition.

The First Visit

Because a child is very young at a first visit, a dentist may not perform an extensive exam. Instead, he may gently inspect the baby’s mouth and spend time talking with the parents to discuss tooth brushing and eating habits at home. Early dental care teaches a child that dental check-ups are a routine event rather than something that is to be feared.

Pediatric Dentist

A pediatric dentist is a dentist with advanced training specifically in the care of children’s teeth. A pediatric dentist has gone through four years of dental school and has two years of supplemental training for childhood dentistry. She is familiar with many childhood dental issues, including primary tooth loss; tooth injuries related to sports; treating potentially damaging habits, such as extensive thumb-sucking; and specific dietary requirements for children to maintain a healthy mouth. Since a pediatric dentist is used to working with children, she will likely have a knack for putting them at ease.

Home Care

Parents can help their child with brushing at home, beginning in infancy. A small, soft toothbrush or wet washcloth may be used with water to brush over a baby’s gums. Parents can use non-fluoride toothpaste once the first tooth erupts, using a very small amount on the end of the bristles. Once a child becomes a toddler, a pea-size amount of toothpaste is recommended and she should be taught how to spit the residual. While a child should practice brushing her teeth, children do not have all of the skills to brush teeth completely and should be supervised until the age of eight.

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