The importance of taking young children to the dentist

February 13, 2023, Kyle Isaacs

Some people wonder why it is important for kids to visit the dentist when they will lose their baby teeth. There are many important reasons for taking them early on for their first visit and then regularly. When I began my career in the dental field, kids had their first dental visit at age three. This was so they could sit still for a little while, getting their teeth polished and checked. Some two-year-olds can sit still, and some older kids can’t. Unfortunately, tooth decay can happen as soon as the first tooth appears in the mouth. This can happen anywhere from 6 months to even a year old. Sadly, I have seen many kids with tooth decay by the age of two and three and kids who are five with only a few teeth left in their mouths.

Little girl pretending to be dentistThe recommendation for the first visit now is by age one or by the time the first tooth erupts into the mouth or the first birthday. Waiting until kids are three years old can be harmful to many kids, and their families as dental disease can already be happening in the mouths of our babes. This can affect a child’s self-esteem, nutrition, and permanent teeth spacing, creating fearful dental patients. It can make it more difficult for children to pay attention and do well in school. And it can create a long life of dental issues if they do not have good early experiences.

Learning good oral hygiene habits early is essential for life-long good oral hygiene habits. I have seen many adults who were not encouraged to clean their teeth daily as children. These people now struggle with caring for their teeth and gums as adults. They have a hard time remembering to follow through with daily oral care. This sets them up for more cavities, gum disease, and fear. It is also vital for adults to look at their own fears about going to the dentist and having dental work. Adults with dental anxiety need to be careful about what they say and how they say it regarding going to the dentist and dental care. I have heard adults say things that are not helpful when bringing their kids to a dental appointment. This only increases the child’s fears and makes the dental professionals’ work much more difficult.

Here are some great books you can read to your child before going to the dentist. There are others as well, but I thought we could start here.

  • Smiles Por Vida: A Spanglish Children’s Dental Book by Amber Lovatos and Maxine Cordova
  • Dora Goes to the Dentist by Robert Roper
  • Peppa Pig Goes to the Dentist by Peppa Pig
  • Elmo Visits the Dentist, by Dalmatian Press

There are YouTube videos of Peppa Pig going to the dentist that you can watch as well.

Playing “going to the dentist” at home can also help your child be more comfortable during dental exams. You can call the dental office ahead of time and see if they have any disposable mirrors that you can have. Have your child hold the mirror, put it in their mouth, or they can put it in your mouth. Better, get two, one for you and one for them. Practice being at the dentist. You can also ask the dental provider for a disposable brush used to apply fluoride. Do the same as you did with the mirror to help them get used to having something different in their mouth. Other items you can practice with would be a cotton roll, a piece of gauze, and putting on sunglasses. Practice saying ahhh, opening wide like a lion or crocodile can help prepare your child for their first visit.

Keep the experience positive. Don’t say scary words like shot, pain, needle, and hurt. Don’t tell them about any negative experiences you have had with dental work. Kids look to us for guidance about what is safe and what is scary. Answer their questions about going to the dentist with simple, positive messages. Here is a great script you can use – Reading books about going to the dentist can also help your child know what to expect.

The goal is to have a healthy mouth for a lifetime and not be afraid to go to the dentist. Practicing at an early age with support and encouragement from caregivers and a compassionate dental team can help make this happen.