Whether your toddler has a mouth full of teeth or only a few poking through, it’s time to start thinking about keeping his adorable smile healthy. Sure, baby teeth don’t hang around forever (they generally start to fall out to make way for adult teeth by the time your child is 6 or 7), but it’s still important to keep those tiny teeth — and gums — in tip-top shape while they’re saving the spots for grown-up teeth.
How do you make sure those pearly whites stay pearly? First, teach your toddler to brush his teeth at least twice a day. Next, book his first dentist appointment, if you haven’t already.
Here’s what you need to know about your tot’s first dentist appointment:
When to go for a dental checkup
It might seem soon, but try to schedule your child’s first dental appointment at a pediatric dentist (or one who’s good with children) by the time he sprouts a tooth or turns a year old, whichever comes first, according to the latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). (The previous recommendation was between 1 and 2 years old or within six months of baby getting that first tooth.)
How to choose a dentist for your child for a dental checkup
When it comes to choosing a dentist, many people take their tot to Mom and Dad’s — and this is often a good choice, particularly if your dentist has experience with young children. You may also want to consider taking your child to a pediatric dentist — someone who has additional training in caring for children’s oral health. Another bonus to choosing a pediatric dentist: He or she will be prepared to deal with any squirming or crying in the dental chair, and he’ll have a waiting room filled with distractions such as kids’ books and toys.
What will happen at your child’s dental checkup
Expect the first appointment to be short and informal — more of a meet-and-greet for your child and the dentist. Depending on your little one’s age and comfort level, you may be asked to hold him while the dentist pokes around his mouth. Or you may be asked to hang back in the waiting room or to one side of the chair so your toddler can have some quality time to get to know the dentist and staff on his own.
As for the business of inspecting your tot’s teeth, the dentist will check for decay and take a look at your child’s gums, jaw, and bite. The dentist or the hygienist may clean your child’s teeth and apply a fluoride preparation (particularly if there is a stain or a high risk of cavities) or he or she may save that for the next visit.
Chances are, the dentist will talk to you about good oral hygiene habits — and give you the chance to ask any questions you may have about toddler teething, thumb-sucking, tooth-friendly foods and anything else that pertains to your toddler’s oral health. You may want to bring a list of your questions to the appointment so that you remember them when you’ve got the dentist’s attention.
Tips to Make Your Child’s Dental Checkup Easier
Before you assume that getting your toddler into the dentist’s chair will involve either a tantrum or bribery, remember that your child doesn’t harbor any ill will toward the dentist — yet. After all, he hasn’t had a close encounter with The Drill. For him, that first visit could be as much fun as a stop at the local amusement park (the chair goes up and down, back and forth!). So keep your own negative feelings in check (if you have any) and let your child enjoy his first dental visit with the same enthusiasm as a visit to Grandma’s (without the candy, of course).
How often to visit the dentist
Based on how your toddler’s teeth look, your dentist will let you know when to make the next visit. Most experts recommend that toddlers see the dentist about every six months — as long as there are no major problems. So don’t forget to schedule your child’s second appointment with Dr. David Tycast on your way out the door!