Many parents can attest: Kids and teenagers can be challenging to take to the dentist for a number of reasons. But perhaps even more difficult is infants! Parents often aren't sure when to take their baby to the dentist for the first time or how to take care of those tiny first teeth.
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, infants can be taken to their first dental visit beginning at 1 year old. It can seem daunting taking little ones in for their first checkup and hearing their upset cries, but that first visit can be vital to keeping babies happier in their adult life.
Bringing your baby in to the dentist as early as possible is critical, as it can help normalize dental checkups and help the child feel comfortable with regular exams.
"This way, once they are old enough for a cleaning, they will already be familiar with the office and staff, and hopefully that will allay some fears," said Dr. Kelley Mingus, DDS, of Bend, Oregon.
Maintaining your infant's healthy mouth is important, because oral health is tied to overall development. Infants are developing a number of motor functions and learning a wide range of skills related to their mouth. Taste is directly associated with learning, so children commonly put objects into their mouths as they're taking in their surroundings. You want that mouth to be as healthy as possible, Mingus said.
It is also important to instill healthy oral habits, said Mingus.
"The reason this is all important is not only to keep your young child’s mouth clean and healthy, but also to instill the importance of it in their mind," he said. "Developing these habits at an early age will prevent future dental and health problems as they grow up. Keeping their teeth healthy will decrease the risks of gum disease, cavities and tooth decay."
Many parents take their little ones to the dentist to see if their teeth are coming in properly, but that's just a small part of your child's oral health exam. When you take your children to the dentist early, you'll also receive proper instructions on how to care for their teeth and what toothbrush and toothpaste they should use.
Parent pro tip: Be sure to schedule your child’s visit in the morning. Your little one will be more likely to be well rested and cooperative and have a more positive experience. Also, make sure you keep your anxieties to yourself so you don't upset your child before the visit.
When it comes time to sit in the dental chair, you might be asked to sit with your child in your lap during the exam, or you might be asked to wait in the reception area so the dentist can build a patient-based relationship.
Once the exam is complete, the dentist might discuss with you some treatment options, such a proper diet, thumb-sucking or oral habits, and how to correctly brush your child’s teeth. You might also be advised to cut your child’s use a sippy cup for juice, Mingus said.
"Juice in sippy cups is actually a big problem," Mingus says.