What happens at a baby's first dental appointment?
February 15, 2015 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm living in a country where they don't see children for dental care until they're three. So what happens in American dentist appointments before then?

I'm American, and when I lived in the US, I heard all the time that a child should go to the dentist at first tooth, or their first birthday, whichever came first. But I'm living in a country where that is NOT the case, and when I've called around to ask, I was laughed out of town.

So. What actually happens at these appointments? Here is the situation -- my kid has four teeth (two on top, two on bottom). Eleven months old. In the morning and in the evenings, we put a small smear of kid's toothpaste on a brush, brush her teeth, and give her the toothbrush to chew on. Obviously she does not spit out yet -- is this a problem?

(And are there any ingredients in kid's toothpaste that we should worry about? We've avoided ones with SLS's, but the new, SLS-free kind says it has methylparaben, which sounds pretty bad too.)

Anyway, what are we missing out on that we would know if we went to an American dentist? What happened at your child's first dental appointment?

(NB, I get that this may be overkill, but where I live, teeth are bad, and I really want to spare my child the cavity visits I endured as a child & set up some good early dental hygiene practices.)
posted by caoimhe to Human Relations (21 answers total)
Our dentist wasn't particularly interested in seeing children until they were about three or four, either, and we live in America. Unless there is an obvious specific problem to address, anyway. The NIH has research saying the most common age for a first dentist visit in the US is between 3 and 6 years old.

There's not much a dentist can DO for one tooth anyway. In early visits they basically count the teeth and polish, that's all. They don't do x-rays or anything, you know? Brush twice a day at home, if it's children's toothpaste don't stress too much about spitting, and you're doing just fine.

If you're super worried about cavities, the other thing you can do is avoid juice, and especially avoid the all-day sippy cup of juice. That stuff is awful for teeth.
posted by Andrhia at 1:45 PM on February 15, 2015 [7 favorites]

My daughter has gone to the dentist twice, at 18 months and at 24 months. At both visits, her teeth have been cleaned and examined and at the second visit, she had a fluoride treatment applied. I have some concerns about her dental health, so it is important to me that we saw a dentist early and continue to do so regularly. We see a pediatric dentist which sounds like is not available where you are. For regular daily hygiene, we brush her teeth with a children's toothpaste. She doesn't spit very well either.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 1:59 PM on February 15, 2015

I'm not sure "first tooth, first birthday" is universal. I actually tried to make appointments for my son when he was about 18 months, but was told "bring him back when he's three". He actually saw the dentist for the first time right around his fourth birthday, and they didn't blink an eye.
posted by anastasiav at 2:06 PM on February 15, 2015

Can't speak to America, but if it's useful I live in a country (Scotland) where the first dental appointment is around 6 months old, the second one around 12 months. Obviously most children don't have much in the way of teeth at 6 months - mine had none and they didn't even look at her mouth. It was more of a half-hour information session for parents (on teething, teeth-brushing, avoiding sugary foods and drinks, showing us some agonising looking photos of badly decayed baby teeth aaaargh) and getting the kid used to the environment of the dentist's surgery.
posted by Catseye at 2:12 PM on February 15, 2015

Our dentist does the first birthday approach, but not necessarily to really "do" anything. He looks at the tooth, tickles the baby, sticks a gloved finger in their mouth, and gives them a toddler toothbrush. It takes about 5 minutes. The reason he does this is to get the kiddo comfortable with him and with having their teeth examined. With my kids, it's been an overall success. Only one still doesn't like dental exams, but the other two think it's a delightful game. Our dentist doesn't charge for this.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 2:14 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

From what I've read/heard, going to the dentist starting around 1 year old is primarily to acclimate the child to the process.
posted by melissasaurus at 2:18 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

These appointments are more about education for you than they are about the kid's teeth. My uncle is a dentist and I've watched him rant and pull his hair out a number of times about all the parents he's seen who don't know they have to brush their kids' teeth. Just because they'll fall out in a few years doesn't mean you don't have to take care of them!

Early dental appointments head that kind of ignorance off at the pass and help get kiddo used to seeing a dentist.

Barring any actual dental problems, it sounds to me like you're doing just fine.
posted by phunniemee at 2:19 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I took my kids to the dental check-up program at the local health authority. They told me these check-ups are just to get kids (and more often their parents) comfortable around dentists and to provide info.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 2:19 PM on February 15, 2015

My dentist (in the US) doesn't want to see my kids before they're three. Before that, I've been told that they are welcome to come with me or my husband, so that they can see what it's all about and hopefully feel more comfortable when it's their turn.
posted by amro at 2:26 PM on February 15, 2015

Both of my US kids went to the dentist at about 3.
posted by heathrowga at 2:32 PM on February 15, 2015

Additional anecdotes from the US: both while in California and New Mexico (with one pediatrician per location, who we liked and trusted in both cases), we were never pushed to get a dental check-up. We felt we should do that, and asked our pediatrician for a suggestion for a dentist when our son was 2+ years old. We finally got him in after he was three, but the dentist didn't seem that concerned when we finally came in.

When we went in, we first met with a dental assistant, then the dentist himself. Our son actually did get x-rays, but our son was wiggly, so they said "we'll do it again in six months." I think it's pretty much the dentist getting a baseline of the kid, and having the kid get used to being in a dentist's office with the equipment and procedures (spraying water, the little vacuum tool, and things of that such), plus telling parents what they should (try to be) doing with their kids.

As for the toothpaste - our son first had baby toothpaste (completely fluoride-free), now adult toothpaste he got from his first dentist visit (tiny tubes, no indication that it's for kids), and our kid kind of brushes, and also chews on his toothbrush. We asked about eating toothpaste, and the dentist wasn't concerned, and said he'd have to eat a LOT to get any ill effects. Regardless, we apply a very small dab of adult toothpaste on his toothbrush, and we have him brush his teeth every night.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:29 PM on February 15, 2015

What our pediatric dentist told us (she recommended twice a year starting at 1 1/2 years old), was that it wasn't really necessary for a baby's teeth. But that what it did do was 1) get baby used to going to a dentist, sitting in the chair and having a stranger touch their teeth and put tools in their mouth, 2) check for early signs of teeth growing in abnormally that parents would need to know about and which pediatricians sometimes miss, and 3) teach parents about what foods and practices are better for teeth - 'common sense' stuff like avoiding soda and candy, brushing after eating, encouraging drinking milk and eating fruit, etc - that many parents actually don't know these things or think they're just old wives' tales, and it's better to educate than to assume.
posted by Mchelly at 3:53 PM on February 15, 2015

I am SO glad my parents took me to see/visit/laugh with the dentist a handful of times when I was very young. I have never been scared of going or having work done to this day.
posted by harrietthespy at 4:41 PM on February 15, 2015

We just had my child's 9 month doctor's checkup/ well visit and they actually applied a fluoride treatment there without prompting from us. They also gave us a pamphlet suggesting visiting a dentist by a year, but we are going to check with our dentist about this- as neither of us as kids went before around 3 YO. We're in the US, but maybe a regular pediatrician could help?
posted by aggielc at 5:06 PM on February 15, 2015

We went when baby bee was about 14 months, and we took our picture next to a mural of a pirate ship in the office's lobby, did a "lap cleaning" which took about three minutes (three long minutes, as the kid before her in the big open room they do all the work in was screaming so she got worked up too) and then a quick little fluoride rub onto the teeth. The dentist came in, checked everything out, and we got a tooth brush, a pinwheel, and a sticker. We use a xyletol training toothpaste, brush everyday, and use straw cups, so the dentist was happy. She recommended we start working with flossers to get her used to flossing, but holy cow I have yet to master that and she's turning two next week.

(Our tooth brushing routine is pretty much the same as yours, save we use training toothpaste, and I attempt to floss her teeth. Attempt being the key word there.)
posted by danielle the bee at 6:05 PM on February 15, 2015

The pediatric dentist I know always says when a child is 1 and that the child is 1 for 12 months (i.e., anytime that first year). My standard family dentist said 3 years. I took my daughter to a pediatric dentist after her first set of molars were almost in. They checked her jaw/neck, did a quick brush, and applied fluoride. It was a very quick in-and-out type visit that answered my most pressing question of "am I doing this brushing thing right?".
posted by bluesapphires at 6:06 PM on February 15, 2015

I resisted taking my kids to the dentist until about age 4. In fact I moved from a practice that wanted to start at 6 months and were pressuring me when our 2nd came along. It didn't make sense to me and I didn't want xrays or fluoride treatments in such a young child. And although I tried I couldn't find any research supporting the efficacy of dental visits at such a young age. We always made sure the kids brushed and flossed and kept candy to a minimum and they were all fine. So there are certainly different approaches.
posted by bluesky43 at 6:37 PM on February 15, 2015

Here (England) we're encouraged to take them from very young - I first took mine to the dentist when he was about 14 months. It's just for familiarity, though, and I don't think they'd do X-rays or fluoride treatments. Mine flatly refused to open his mouth at that appointment, so it may be a very gradual process.

Dental treatment for kids is free here, so that's not a concern. The dentist is paid something for the appointment, though.
posted by altolinguistic at 2:08 AM on February 16, 2015

We took our kids at one, and addition to everything mentioned above, they also checked for bite problems from pacifier/bottle use.
posted by that's how you get ants at 7:56 AM on February 16, 2015

Both our pediatrician and dentist said "come in after 3rd birthday".
posted by k5.user at 8:08 AM on February 16, 2015

I am a dentist in the US. I encourage parents to bring their kids in early for the reasons that phunnieme mentioned. It's good to have an early look at the development of the dentition, and it's good to have a chance to answer questions, anticipate worries, and get the child conditioned to coming in to our environment a couple of times a year. Kids who have this experience tend to be less anxious later on and everybody wins.

In case anyone is curious, i don't charge for these visits which we call happy baby visits.

Parent sits in the chair, and i sit across from parent with our knees touching making a stable platform for baby to recline on, still facing parent. i get a look and feel at whatever level i can engage with the baby, but have no interest in demanding cooperation. there's always next time if baby just aint havin it.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:20 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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