When do I need to bring my toddler to the dentist?
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that a child’s first visit to the dentist take place by the first birthday (of course they do $$$). My pediatrician had suggested after my son’s third birthday we should visit the dentist. At first, I took him to my dentist; and all was fine. However, around the age of 5 my son had a cavity and we were referred to a pediatric dentist. The nice thing about our pediatric dentist is that they have a television for each child to watch ~ and cool sunglasses to wear ~ while having their teeth cleaned! All of the staff uses really sweet tones with the kids; and they get a token for doing well which gives them the chance to get a prize from a gum ball-like machine. Pretty neat.
I’ve learned from taking my kids to the dentist…things I wish I new earlier…which may help you!
*An adult MUST brush the child’s teeth. At some point my husband thought it’d be a good idea to let my son brush his own teeth. We had given him the opportunity to select his own outfits, dress himself, wash his own body…so why not brush his own teeth?!? Because kids aren’t so great at brushing!!! I blame his cavities on those few months where we took a step back and let him take care of his teeth. Now, with my children at ages 3, almost 6, and almost 8, I still brush their teeth at night, but let them have control in the morning. Typically at night they’ll brush for a bit themselves before I take over, but I insist on a parent doing it at least once per day.
*FLOSS! We buy those flossing sticks for the kids and it’s always been something fun to do. However, I didn’t insist they floss regularly…and quite frankly, I don’t remember flossing regularly when I was a kid. Well, the x-rays show that little cavities have developed between the teeth ~ because the teeth are pressed closely together and the bristles just can’t get in there! Now the kids are flossing every night (to prevent further problems), but I wish I had started this daily flossing years ago.
*Beware of raisins…and craisins, and juice, and lollipops, and chewy fruit snacks (even the natural ones). It seems obvious that little ones shouldn’t fall asleep on the bottle (with the lingering drops of milk rotting their teeth), but did you know dehydrated fruit leaves sugars behind…for hours?!? Yeah, this causes big problems for the little guys.
*Sugarless gum to the rescue! At five, when my son had his first cavity, the dental hygienist suggested I let him chew sugarless gum after lunch. It helps get those sugars out of the teeth! My son loves his sugarless gum; and most days, I’ll let him have a piece on our car ride home from school. It’s not a substitute for brushing, but it’s a mid-day cleansing of sorts.
*Make brushing fun. This isn’t something I learned from my dental experiences, I did it all along! Around the age of 2-3 years, I had my oldest sit in the glider and I’d lean him back while I brushed his teeth. I spoke in a funny accent and pretended he had all sorts of colorful creatures in his mouth. All of my kids have loved when I play “Doctor Dentist” and they love to tell me what animals might be hiding in their mouth. I initially started this as a way to get them comfortable with the idea of the dentist, but soon realized it also granted me permission to brush for two minutes (the recommended time) and have some fun!
Overall, the dentist isn’t someone to fear. It’s a good idea to bring your child along to your dental visits so they can see how natural it is! I recommend finding a pediatric dentist because they have experience with making young children feel at ease…and there are all sorts of fun things about being there! If you do take your child as early as age 1, know the dentist might not do a cleaning. My son’s first visit was very exploratory: he rode up and down in the chair, let the hygienist count his teeth, and had the water sprayed in his mouth…just to get comfortable with the office tools. Regardless of when you decide to make that first visit, take dental care seriously at home. Even before they have teeth you can be cleaning their gums with a washcloth! The more consistent you are with caring for their teeth & gums, the healthier they will be and the less struggles you’ll have.