This is a common question I get asked almost weekly. The ADA now recommends that parents take children to a dentist no later than their first birthday. This is a change from what I was taught in dental school when we were told to recommend the first dental appointment between the ages of 30 and 36 months. The thinking was that by that age the majority of baby teeth would have had a chance to come in. Why has there been a change in philosophy?
On a whole, the incidence of dental cavities has steadily gone down over the past 50 years. Water fluoridation and dental sealants have been big contributors to this trend. What has been alarming, however, has been that the past decade has seen a marked increase in cavities in children between the ages of 1 and 5. This has been attributed in large part to “baby bottle syndrome” and the extensive use of sipper cups filled with sugar containing fluids (e.g., juice). Sometimes, by the time they are 3 years old, children have developed advanced dental decay and even abscessed teeth, posing an extremely difficult challenge to restore. This, obviously, is not the way I would like to introduce a child to the world of dental care!
Seeing a child within 6 months of the time that their first tooth comes in gives a dentist the chance to catch potential cavities when they are much easier to fix, but even more importantly, it provides us an opportunity to educate parents on those things they can do to prevent these issues from ever starting. If there ever was a case for “an ounce of prevention” this is it.
The long term goal of these early visits is to provide this generation of children a lifetime of good oral care habits which will result in reduced anxieties and plenty of stress free dental visits!