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Your Child's First Dental Visit
Parents often ask: when is a good time to take my child to see the dentist? Well, at the time of birth, your baby has 20 baby teeth, some of which are fully developed in the jaw. But proper dental care begins even before a baby's first tooth appears in their mouth. Just because you can't see any teeth, doesn't mean they aren't there. Teeth actually begin to form in the second trimester of pregnancy. Many couples who have adopted children never received proper training for infant and toddler oral health care.

The American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend that a child's first visit to the dentist take place before their first birthday. At this visit, the dentist will explain safe brushing and flossing techniques and conduct a modified exam while your baby sits on your or your partner’s lap. The purpose of this visit for the child is two-fold. Primarily, it is to determine the current dental and physical development of the baby while looking for any potential anomalies. The visit also serves to establish a dental home for the child, and to begin helping the child develop a positive comfort level with doctor-type interactions they will encounter throughout their lives. Such visits are pivotal in the early detection of potential developing problems, and help kids become accustomed to visiting the dentist so they'll have less fear of visits, as they grow older.

Even small babies can have significant problems with dental decay when parents are unaware of warning signs and do not practice proper feeding techniques. Simply running a clean, damp washcloth over a young baby’s gums following routine feedings can minimize the buildup of harmful bacteria that cause future problems. Once teeth begin to appear, your dentist can recommend special toothbrushes that focus on removing plaque and biofilms off the erupting teeth. Depending on the development of the baby, the dentist may also provide parents with soft gauze and distinct toothpastes for proper removal of bacteria in the mouth and on the tongue.

Most childhood decay starts with incorrect feeding techniques. Although convenient in the short term, putting a baby to sleep with a bottle of milk or juice can cause significant problems. The sugars and acids in the drinks coat the baby’s teeth for hours and eat away at the teeth, causing early cavities. Bacteria can further colonize these cavities and cause large painful dental decay for the baby. Any child under the age of 6 with a single cavity is considered a high-risk patient for cavities by a dental provider. Problematic cases have been termed as “bottle rot” or “bottle mouth.” Bottle mouth shows pocketed, pitted, or discolored teeth and often leads to the pulling of all front teeth until the adult teeth can come in at a later age.

It is important for the child to visit the dentist in order to receive a proper exam, gauge development, and establish a positive comfort level. It is equally as important for parents to participate in this visit. Parents will learn about setting expectations, future milestones, actively prevention of problems, brushing techniques, and how to treat kids’ dental emergencies at home. If the child, parents, and dentist are all on the same page, then the child is given the best opportunity to grow up with a health and beautiful smile.

About Dr. Keith Dobracki

Dr. Keith Dobracki actively practices dentistry in his hometown of Ann Arbor, MI. He is a recognized contributor to multiple dental publications and focuses his dental care on pediatric patients as well as adult cosmetic cases. He has developed various programs to alleviate anxiety for kids during their dental visits, which have been presented in the public media. He is also a clinical professor at The University of Michigan Dental School.

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