When should I bring my toddler to the dentist?
This is a conversation that came up in my workplace among colleagues with kids. My own dentist had recommended I bring my daughter in just after she turns one, as soon as she has a few baby teeth. I mentioned as much and of course, the mom of the two and a half year old who was asking was shocked at how soon it was recommended to me. Another mom chimed in to say that she waited until age three so as not to traumatize her little ones with a scary experience. Valid point, particularly if the parent them self does not like the dentist. The American Dental Association suggests taking your child within six months of their first tooth poking through the gums.
I ended up taking my dentist’s advice. My daughter was 14 months and had six baby teeth when I brought her in. Personally, I don’t mind going to the dentist so I didn’t think there was anything to be afraid of. My calm demeanor with my daughter, I reasoned, would give her the support to get through it for the first time. I have no regrets, but I can definitely understand why some parents might choose to wait a little longer.
What to Expect
Experiences may differ with providers, so definitely ask your dentist what they recommend and how they handle young children. When my daughter and I arrived, the dentist came out to the waiting area and allowed my daughter to play while she spoke to me. She asked about our water source: city water, which has fluoride. That’s a good thing for little ones’ teeth. She also asked if we are brushing and I confirmed that we use a little rubber tooth cleaner with non-fluoride cleanser every night before bed. This is a good first step, but she did suggest we get my daughter used to spitting out the toothpaste. Personally, I’ll wait until she’s more verbally communicative before I switch to fluoridated toothpaste and try to get her to spit it out!
After the hygiene discussion, we took my daughter in to the check up room. The dentist let her pick a toothbrush (she chose a red one with dinosaurs on it). Then, I sat sideways on the chair, knee to knee with the dentist. My Peanut sat on my lap, facing me, and we leaned her back so the dentist could get a good look at her chompers. She was a little fussy about being held still in an awkward way, in a strange place with new people, but overall she did quite well. It seemed to help that she could see my face throughout the process and I could reassure her. The dentist examined her teeth and used a small mirror to see whether any new teeth were emerging, especially in the back of her mouth. She painted a small amount of fluoride gel on her teeth. It dried on and fell off on its own a few hours later. The whole exam only took about 5 minutes and we were on our way.
What to Consider
When deciding how young to send your child to the dentist, consider your little one’s personality. How does she do in new situations and with new people? Does he resist being held and protest loudly (i.e. melt down)? Also ask your dentist in advance how they handle small children and what they recommend. Finally, think about your own feelings regarding the dentist. Will you provide a calm support for your child, or are they likely to sense your anxiety as well?
Best of luck! And please share stories of your experience in the comments.