March 7, 2019
“We have a baby with only a few teeth- when should we bring him/her in? ” We tend to hear this everyday in our practice. It can be very confusing with different recommended ages being mentioned by general dentists, pediatricians, and even peers. Most of the ages being recommended by these groups range from 2 years of age to 5 years of age. Unfortunately, you can start getting cavities as early as 18 months old.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends your child to visit the pediatric dentist as soon as the first tooth comes in or by the age of one (whichever comes first). Why so early? Early conversation about the oral health of children, especially with first-time parents, goes a long way in planning an effective routine that will support lifelong good oral health. It is also critical in establishing a relationship for your child with the dentist to build a future of confidence at the dentist. As the children grow they have an established place to learn appropriate steps for care and recommendations based on their situations.
So why a Pediatric Dentist? A Pediatric Dentist is a specialist who undergoes additional years of training focusing on caries etiology, prevention, children’s psychology, behavior management, growth and development and early orthodontics. We don’t focus on just cavities and fixing them – that is part of our profession and specialty but we would much rather prospectively plan for children to have no cavities – hence everyone’s “cavity free club.” A Pediatric Dentist also weigh the children’s personalities, behavior, size, and rate of growth into our decisions on how we treat the cavities (either by medicament and preventative measure or necessary fillings). The goal is to educate the family as a whole so that they understand what we recommend and why. We use a CAMBRA approach to Caries Prevention by risk assessment. So first visit age can sometimes vary with your family and its assessed risk.
Why the early visit?
The importance of the early visit is evident because cavities or caries can begin forming by 18 months in some populations! We commonly see school aged children whose parents were told they did not need to be seen at the dentist until they were four. We also see instances where they were examined but proper care and guidance may not be given and upon examination by the pediatric dentist, anywhere from 4-12 cavities are diagnosed. This is unfortunate as these parents typically come to us confused – they had been to the dentist and it was fine before! The key is early detection and discussion, which may include x-rays at the appropriate age.
However, all children are unique. Different child temperaments, maturity, and medical diagnoses need to be considered in creating a personalized plan for prevention and treatment. With each child, a pediatric dentist would reassess the child’s cavity risk level, evaluate their individual needs, and discuss a plan to manage that child’s specific situation.