Is there an ideal age for taking your child on his first trip to the dentist? If you defer to the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Dental Association, then you know that children should start dental care from a dentist or pediatrician by the age of 12 months.
However, a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics, reveals something different: Children should start going to the dentist closer to the age of two.
In fact, the study, which looked at children enrolled in Medicaid in Alabama, found that children who saw the dentist before turning 2 were more likely to need cavity treatments when they got older.
Could early visits really be causing more harm than good? Dr. Stacy Sullivan, a pediatric dentist at Bloomfield Children’s Dentistry, weighs in on the findings.
Is age 2 too late?
Sullivan, who disagrees with the findings, recommends families bring children in for their first visit closer to age one.
“Waiting until age 2 to 3 means, some children will have already developed cavities which could have been prevented by an earlier discussion with parents about diet and oral hygiene habits, specifically baby bottle tooth decay,” she says.
Sullivan, who has been working as a dentist for eight years and has been with Bloomfield Children’s Dentistry since 2015, says dental visits help ensure healthier teeth later on in the future.
“From my clinical experience, I see lower cavity risk, which means easier visits for the child when they start coming at a young age to the dentist,” she says. “If the parent waits to bring the child until they have pain or an emergency, it can be a stressful process for the child and parent.”
Other benefits of early dental care
Bringing your child to the dentist earlier than age 2 also gives the parents a resource to turn to in case of an accident.
“Children are often at high risk for trauma due to falls after becoming mobile between ages one to three,” Sullivan says. “So an early visit establishes a dentist home which gives the parent a resource should the children have a mouth or teeth injury.”
Outside of treating her patients, Sullivan makes it a point to keep up with the latest studies happening in her profession.
“It’s very important to be able to critically look at new research coming out in dentistry to keep my skills and knowledge relevant,” she says. “As dentists, we are required to take continuing education classes every year. It’s important to be able to use this knowledge to better treat our patients and answer questions they may have from articles such as this latest study.”
Tips for dental health
Sullivan suggests the following five tips to ensure your child’s dental health:
- Children should use fluoride toothpaste starting right away. A small smear on the bristles will help stop cavities.
- It is important for children to be brushing two times a day and daily flossing especially in the molars of a young child, wherever teeth touch the child can get decay between those teeth even at age two or three.
- Don’t send the child to bed with a bottle of milk or formula once they have teeth as they can get baby bottle tooth decay from letting milk sit on the teeth overnight. It is best to give them the bottle then clean the teeth after the bottle before bed.
- Limit sugary drinks like chocolate milk, juice and flavored water. Plain water is best for the teeth and body. If you are going to have a sweet drink, have it at mealtime rather than sipping on it throughout the day.
- Take your child for regular check-ups to the dentist. Children can develop new cavities in 6 months time so don’t skip visits. It also helps the child to get familiar and comfortable with the dentist and cleaning when they come at an early age and stick to a routine schedule.