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The Importance of Early Dental Visits

Taking your children for oral checkups helps ensure a healthy mouth and healthy attitude toward dentists.
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Eric Yabu, DDS

At the sight of my son's first tooth, it dawned on me: I had been so focused on every other detail of his development that I knew almost nothing about dental care for little choppers.

According to Clarice Law, DMD, MS, assistant professor in the Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics sections at the UCLA School of Dentistry, it pays to start dental visits early. "I like to see kids by age 1," Law says.

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Mostly, first visits are about getting kids used to the dentist's chair and educating parents about how to best care for tiny teeth. Law says she examines a child's mouth, then spends 15 to 30 minutes talking about what she's seen and what to expect in the coming six to 12 months.

Dental Checkups in Childhood

If your child has transitioned from the bottle to cup and doesn't snack or drink in the middle of the night (both habits increase the risk of cavities), you get a one-year pass until age 2. That's when the standard six-month dental visit kicks into gear. Between ages 4 and 6, expect a first set of mouth X-rays to check for cavities lurking between the teeth.

"This can indicate that a child has been infected with bacteria that cause cavities. We'll have an idea as to whether this will be a lifetime struggle or if cavities are mostly related to dietary practices," Law says.

Prevention is the name of the game between ages 6 and 12, when baby teeth give way to permanent teeth. Look for your child's dentist to suggest a sealant -- a plastic resin that bonds to a tooth's chewing surface -- between ages 7 and 9. Cavity-prone molars (at the back of the mouth) are the most likely site for treatment. "We paint it on to prevent bacteria that cause cavities from getting into the grooves and valleys of teeth," Law says.

The First Orthodontic Visit

Also around age 7, your child's dentist will likely suggest an orthodontic evaluation. "It's old-school to wait until all permanent teeth come in at around 12 or 13 to refer kids to an orthodontist," Law says. Although most kids do wait until their early teens for braces, orthodontics is about modifying jaw growth; identifying skeletal causes of crooked teeth early ensures a beautiful smile later on.

In the end, it's the basics -- brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, reducing high-sugar snacks, and getting regular dental checkups -- that have the most impact on the health of kids' teeth. Of course, the toy that comes at the end of each visit seems to help, too.

Getting Ready for Your Child's First Dental Appointment

Wondering how to prepare for your child's trip to the tooth doctor? Law offers the following tips:

Be brief. Parents tend to over-talk upcoming dentist visits to prepare their child, a strategy that often backfires. The more you talk, the bigger deal it becomes. Let your child know ahead of time about the visit and leave it at that.

Be positive. Parents who have had bad dental experiences often assume their kids will, too. Don't talk about fear -- it just sets up negative associations with the dentist. "There's no reason to expect pain," Law says.

Be a presence (not a nuisance). Many parents repeat the directives given their child by the dentist or interject in other ways during office visits. But hearing multiple voices confuses your child and blocks an opportunity for bonding with her dentist. "When we need your help, we'll ask," Law says.

Reviewed on October 04, 2011

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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