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When your baby only has a few, tiny teeth in their mouth it can seem like dental appointments are pretty far down the road. But, you might be surprised by the age it’s recommended that kids go to the dentist for their first check-up. At Smile Valley Pediatric Dentistry in DC, when it comes to our philosophy on early visits, we follow the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (Dr. Roya Pilcher and Dr. Roma Gandhi are pediatric dentists after all!). So, when do kids start going to the dentist? We have you covered! 

In this post, we’ll answer the following questions:

  • When should kids go to the dentist for the first time?
  • What if my child is older and hasn’t had a check-up yet?
  • What happens at a baby’s first dental visit?
  • How can I prepare for my child’s first dentist appointment?

When Should Kids Go to the Dentist for the First Time?

According to guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and a number of other health organizations, your baby’s first dental visit should occur by age one. 

This might seem really, really young, but there are a number of reasons why the age one dental visit is important:

  • During early visits, your child will become familiar with the sights and sounds of the pediatric dental office and develop a rapport with the dentist, making future appointments stress-free. Starting off dental visits on the right foot makes it more likely kids will continue to receive routine care in adulthood.
  • Dr. Roya and Dr. Roma will teach you how to take care of your baby’s teeth from the get-go, including how to brush, when to start flossing and how to do it, which toothpaste to use, and more. Adopting a solid oral hygiene routine at a young age won’t just keep cavities at bay, it will also help kids become brushing and flossing pros so they can maintain amazing oral health for life. 
  • A baby can get a cavity as soon as their first tooth erupts. Even if they aren’t eating solid foods yet, breast milk and formula contain natural sugars. 
  • Because dental caries, or cavities, are the most common chronic disease of childhood and, when not treated, can lead to pain, infection and other complications, identifying risk factors early on is incredibly helpful. This way, our Washington, DC kids’ dentists can create a personalized preventative care plan to keep your child’s teeth strong and cavity-free. Prevention is the best form of dentistry!
  • If we do spot any decay during your baby’s dental exam, addressing it as soon as possible will ensure we can use the least-invasive approach for easier, more affordable treatment.
  • Our Spring Valley pediatric dentists will evaluate your baby’s oral development. If they identify issues, early intervention will help keep things on track. They’ll also fill you in on what to expect as your kiddo’s smile takes shape and everything you need to know about managing the process, including safe teething remedies, nutrition guidance, when to try to break a thumb sucking habit, when to stop using a pacifier or bottle, etc. 

What if My Child Didn’t Have a Dental Check-Up by Age One?

Though there are plenty of benefits to scheduling a check-up by your baby’s first birthday, if your child is older and hasn’t been to the dentist yet, it’s never too late. We’ve seen patients who have had their first dental visit at age 4 or 5. Just keep in mind, if you do have a toddler or even a school-aged child who still needs that first exam, the earlier you do it, the better. 

At Smile Valley Pediatric Dentistry, we’re a no-judgement zone. As parents themselves, Dr. Roya and Dr. Roma know life gets busy. Our dentists and team are just happy to meet your child, regardless of their age, and help put them on the path to a healthy smile.

What Happens at a Baby’s First Dental Visit?

At your baby or child’s first dental visit, our team will give you both a warm welcome. While we’re dedicated to providing on-time appointments, if you get here early, you and your child can hang out in our comfy reception area. We have toys, books and fun stuff to keep your little one occupied. Bringing more than one child? We also have in-office assistants to help you juggle multiple kids. 

A friendly team member will take you and your child back to a treatment room. If you have an infant, we may have them sit on your lap. Older kids can hop right on up into the chair. 

We’ll let your child set the pace at their first dental visit, so depending on their age and needs, we may or may not perform a cleaning and fluoride treatment and/or take digital x-rays before the exam. 

In any case, once your little one is settled in, Dr. Roya or Dr. Roma will introduce themselves. They’ll use the S.A.F.E. (Sequential Approach to Familiarize and Engage pediatric patients) technique, which Dr. Roya developed. The approach is structured as a game with each step building off the last.

During the game, Dr. Roya or Dr. Roma will use kid-friendly terms to introduce your child to the techniques and tools they’ll be using. They usually start by having your child simply showing them how they brush their own teeth, earning your little one a sticker. As the game progresses, the dentist will ask to see in your child’s mouth and demonstrate the tools on your child’s hand before actually completing the cleaning and exam. Your child will accumulate stickers after each step and get a larger prize when they’re done. It might sound simple, but we’ve found this approach really puts patients at ease, gets them engaged in the visit and makes it fun. 

Dr. Roya or Dr. Roma will wrap things up by talking with you about caring for your kiddo’s smile, including oral hygiene, fluoride, cavity prevention and diet. If you have any questions, they’ll be more than happy to answer them! 

How Can I Prepare My Child for Their First Dentist Visit?

As a parent or guardian, there are a number of things you can do before your child’s first dentist visit to prepare them and reduce their anxiety. Prior the appointment:

  • Tell your child that they’ll be visiting the tooth doctor and that the friendly doctor wants to get to know them. Try to make it sound like it will be exciting for both of you.
  • Fill your child in on what to expect at the dentist using age-appropriate, kid-friendly terms. You can say that Dr. Roya or Dr. Roma will “count,” “brush” and/or “take pictures” of their teeth. 
  • Play a game! There are plenty of dentist games for kids available online or you can simply role play. Pretend to be the dentist and count your child’s teeth before brushing and flossing. Then, switch places and let your child be the dentist while you or a stuffed animal stands in as the patient. 
  • Watch videos or read books about going to the dentist. Sometimes, seeing their favorite characters visiting the tooth doctor and having a positive experience will be enough to reassure kids. 
  • Finally, and most importantly, keep it positive when you talk about the dentist. Never bring up your own dental anxieties or involved procedures like root canals that could scare your child. Also, avoid using negative words like “drill,” “hurt,” and “shot.” The first exam is completely painless and we do everything we can at our Spring Valley pediatric dental practice to make it enjoyable! 

Now that you know the recommended age kids should go to the dentist and what to expect at their first visit, are you in need of a fun, friendly pediatric dentist in Washington, DC? If so, schedule an appointment at Smile Valley Pediatric Dentistry today! With stress-free service, high quality care and a joyful, positive atmosphere, we’re the go-to kids’ dentist for patients in DC and the surrounding areas of Chevy Chase and Bethesda, MD. 

Smile Valley Paediatric Dentistry

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