I know that some pediatricians say 3 years old. I know some dentists do, too. But even more of both are now recommending that the first dentist visit happen at the first tooth, and no later than the first birthday. But more and more I read that starting good dental habits early pays off handsomely, and can even help catch things early that might impede speech.
So with our pediatrician’s blessing, a few months ago I set off to find a dentist for Tiny. I found a promising practice and made an appointment for the week after his birthday. Although I had heard good things about John’s dentist, I still wasn’t prepared for the amazing amount of friendliness and helpfulness the staff exhibited upon our arrival.
And the visit with the hygienist and with the dentist was helpful, too. It was nice to know that we’ve mostly been doing things right, and also nice to get some pointers on some things we should add to our repertoire.
So how does a dentist appointment for a one-year-old go, exactly? Well, although I’m sure the appointments vary from dentist to dentist, ours began in a room very different from your standard dental exam room. Since Tiny is a squirrely, much-moving toddler, a traditional dental chair can be cumbersome. For John’s baby cleaning and exam, I sat in an office chair facing the hygienist (and later the dentist) who was also in an office chair, knee to knee. Over our laps was a thick pad, kind of like one of those contoured changing pads, but much thicker and sturdier.
John laid on the pad, head on the hygienst’s lap, torso and legs all over me. She looked at his teeth for obvious issues, then brushed them and flossed (yes, floss, more on that in a second), as well as the ubiquitous tartar scraping (yes, even babies get tarter). After that, he was allowed to get up and roam around and play with toys until the doctor came to check him out, too.
When the doctor came, we arranged him just like before. The dentist examined his teeth, and pointed out a few areas of concern. One was that his teeth seemed to be rather close together, which meant that we really needed to add flossing to our list of things to do daily, to prevent cavities between teeth. His frenulum (in this case, the skin between the upper lip and upper gums) was thickened. While this won’t cause any speech issues, Tiny’s dentist said it could eventually cause his permanent teeth to splay out. If that becomes an issue, he said lasering it back would easily fix the problem. After the exam, he quickly applied a fluoride sealant to help combat tooth decay even more. Yes, I know some out there are anti-fluoride, but since it’s a parental decision, I promise not to look askance at your unfluoridated children if you don’t lecture me about my being OK with it.
But I think the visit on the whole really helped me feel like I wasn’t being ridiculous for bringing him in that early (I had gotten some eye-rolls). I didn’t realize his teeth were that close together. Maybe he wouldn’t have had cavities at his three year old visit if we had waited, but what if he had? His first few visits to the dentist would be fraught with pain and scary noises and instruments, like mine was, building up a lifetime dread of the dentist.
Aside from being forced to be still a couple times and getting mad, John actually liked the visit. He enjoys brushing his teeth (we do it twice a day now, generally before he sleeps, so before nap and before bed). Flossing is still a little new, but he’s starting to like that, too. And by the way, if you’re curious how flossing a one year old works, you just use these.
The dentist was quite specific about some of the things every parent should be doing once the first tooth emerges, and then as the child gets bigger:
- Brush at least twice a day, especially before bedtime
- No sleeping with milk, formula or juice bottles overnight, and always brush after the bedtime feeding – even if it’s formula or breast milk. Once the child is old enough to get rid of the middle-of-the-night bottle, start offering water instead.
- Milk (or breast milk and/or formula, if the baby is younger than 1) and water are the best hydration choices, with diluted juice as a second in the case of constipation.
- If you’re going to offer fruit chewy snacks, brush well afterwards, because the sugar tends to stick to teeth.
- Unless your child is using the pacifier a lot, you don’t have to be super militant about taking it away at one. Tiny, on his own accord, only logs about 20 minutes total per day on the Binky, generally as he’s going to sleep. More and more he’s been eschewing it, but we really haven’t stressed about taking it away, since he tends to drop things like that by himself.
So there you go. Are you planning on taking your little one to the dentist soon? Do your children like to go?