What Age Should a Child Go to the Dentist for the First Time?

Reviewed on 8/18/2021

Your child's first dentist visit

About 50 percent of children have at least one cavity by the time they are five years old. Take your child to the dentist by the time they are 12 months old or within six months of when their first tooth comes in.
About 50 percent of children have at least one cavity by the time they are five years old. Take your child to the dentist by the time they are 12 months old or within six months of when their first tooth comes in.

By the time they are five, almost 50% of children have at least one cavity. Even though children will eventually lose their baby teeth, cavities can still cause problems with the development of their permanent teeth. Taking your child to the dentist is an important part of establishing good oral hygiene habits so your child will have healthy teeth.

Plan to take your child to the dentist by the time they are 12 months old or within six months of when their first tooth comes in. The main purpose of the first visit is to get your child comfortable with the dentist. 

A pediatric dentist may examine your child's teeth, jaws, bite, and gums to check for healthy growth and development. The dentist will talk to you about the best way to take care of your child's teeth, including brushing and flossing and the need for fluoride.

At the first visit, the dentist may discuss:

Future dentist visits

Taking your child for their first dental visit is the beginning of establishing a "dental home" for your child. Just as your child sees their pediatrician on a regular basis, they should see a dentist every six months for routine visits, or more often for problems. 

Your child's dentist will have a better chance of finding problems early if you take your child for regular visits. Tooth decay can often be stopped or managed if it's caught early enough.

Preparing your child for dental vsits

Schedule your child's dentist visit for a time of day when your child is normally alert and happy. As your child gets older, talk to them about what to expect at the dentist's office. Explain to your child why it's important to take care of their teeth. Plan ahead some ways to deal with your child's age-appropriate responses, including:  

  • 10 to 24 months: Your child may get upset if they are taken away from you for an exam.
  • 2-year-olds: Your child may say "no" during their check-ups.
  • 3-year-olds: Your child may not be able to separate from you for a dental cleaning or procedure.
  • 4-year-olds: Your child will probably be able to go into another room for a dental cleaning or procedure.

Taking care of your child's teeth at home

In between dental visits there are many things you can do to take care of your child's teeth and prevent cavities, including:

Toothbrushing. Even before your baby's teeth come in, you should start teaching good oral hygiene. Wipe your baby's gums with a soft, clean cloth after the first feeding in the morning and before bed at night. When your baby's teeth start coming in, brush them twice a day with a small-bristled toothbrush and water. Talk to your dentist about the right time to start using fluoride toothpaste.

As your child gets older, they can start brushing their own teeth. However, you'll need to supervise them until they are age six or have developed good tooth brushing skills. Make sure they only use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and spit it out instead of swallowing. 

Avoid too much sugar. What your child eats plays a major role in their oral health. The longer and more often your child's teeth are exposed to sugar, the more at-risk they are for developing cavities. Always brush your child's teeth after they eat anything sugary. Sticky, sugary treats can do a lot of damage to teeth, so avoid giving your child:

  • Caramel
  • Gum
  • Toffee
  • Dried fruit

You should also make sure your child doesn't have a sugary liquid in a bottle or sippy cup for a prolonged amount of time. This can cause baby bottle tooth decay. When your baby is put to bed with a bottle or given a bottle of milk or juice for a pacifier, their teeth are exposed to sugary liquids. Baby bottle tooth decay most commonly affects the upper front teeth, but it can also affect other teeth.

Fluoride. Fluoride is a natural mineral that can help slow or stop cavities from forming. It protects your child's teeth from damage and can help rebuild the enamel. Fluoride is safe for your child and has been shown to reduce tooth decay by 25%. If your water is not fluoridated, talk to your dentist about whether your child needs fluoride drops. Your child's dentist will also apply a fluoride varnish to your child's teeth two to four times per year until age five.

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References
SOURCES:

American Dental Association: "Baby Bottle Tooth Decay."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "Children's Oral Health."

healthychildren.org: "Dental Health & Hygiene for Young Children," "Fluoride for Children: FAQs," "Why Regular Dental Visits Are Important."

Stanford Children's Health: "A Child's First Dental Visit Fact Sheet."

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