What Age Should A Child See A Pediatric Dentist?
While many parents in the United States don’t take their children to the dentist until they are around two, dental and medical professionals actually recommend that children have their first dental examination when they are much younger. According to a 2009 survey, the average age for an initial dental visit is about 2 and a half years, though medical and dental professionals encourage parents and caregivers to take children to a dentist within six months of the eruption of the first tooth. In most children, the primary teeth begin to erupt at around 6 months of age, so ideally infants will have their first dental examination by their first birthday. Many survey respondents perceived that children with few teeth may be too young to see the dentist, or they otherwise indicated a belief that baby teeth, or primary teeth, aren’t important enough to need care or attention. Lack of dental insurance was also cited as a reason for not taking infants and children to the dentist, though far less frequently.
While people may believe that the primary teeth are unimportant, they actually serve multiple roles, even when they’ve first appeared. Primary teeth help children learn how to chew properly, a skill that is necessary for proper nutrition. They help children develop speech properly, and they hold space in the mouth for the permanent teeth. The primary teeth are also important aesthetically and with the development of a child’s self-confidence, as young people learn early that a healthy smile looks and feels good. One way to maintain the health and appearance of a smile is with effective oral hygiene, a practical habit that should be established early. Dentists play an integral role in helping children learn proper brushing and flossing techniques, and these techniques help lay the groundwork for a lifetime or oral health.
One of the additional benefits of taking an infant to the dentist early on is that this can be helpful in establishing the normalcy of dental visits, and, in infancy, children are likely too young to be nervous about going to the dentist. By the time a child is slightly older, they may have developed a bit of anxiety surrounding visits to the dentist or to other medical providers. If you are the caregiver for a child with anxiety about visiting the dentist, there are a few things you can do to help comfort them and assuage their nervousness. It can be helpful to have your child accompany you to the dentist for your next checkup, allowing them to watch while you get your teeth cleaned and your mouth examined. You can also help your child learn more about what happens at the dentist, using one of the many online resources or books that has been developed for this reason. Turning a dental experience into play can also help normalize the experience of visiting the dentist. Play pretend with your child, taking turns pretending to examine each other’s teeth and have your teeth examined, helping them get accustomed to having their teeth and gums touched by another person. You could even practice counting with your child, using teeth as the thing that is counted, thereby serving more than one educational purpose simultaneously. When it is time to schedule an appointment with a real dentist, help your child feel comfortable by making sure they’re well-rested, well-fed, and otherwise calm and not rushed or stressed beforehand.
There are 11 different types of dental specializations that are recognized by the American Dental Association, each of which requires postdoctoral training in an academic and clinical setting following the completion of dental school. Pediatric dentists are dentists who specialize in the specific needs of infants, children, and adolescents. In addition to the same dental school requirements met by general dentists, prospective pediatric dentists invest in two additional years of education and clinical residency, learning how to diagnose and treat the specific dental and periodontal conditions and challenges that can occur in young people, and studying the methods that have proven successful in teaching young people to care properly for their teeth. Pediatric dentists also learn techniques and practices that can help entertain or comfort infants or children who may be anxious, nervous, or scared of going to the dentist. If your child is generally anxious or impatient, or if your child requires additional care for medical reasons, or even if it is simply a matter of preference, a pediatric dentist might be a good option for you; ask your pediatrician or general dentist for a referral.