The importance of a child’s first dental visit cannot be ignored for good reason. A child’s first dental visit sets the foundation for a lifetime of good oral health. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, a child’s first dental appointment should occur by the age of 1, or within 6 months of the first tooth eruption. Doctor Staci loves to see even younger babies, as she can access functional issues early, like Tethered Oral Tissues, asymmetries, and growth and development concerns.
Regular dental assessments and check-ups are an essential part of your child’s preventive health care. Having regular visits with the dentist helps establish good oral hygiene at an early age. It also helps a dentist detect any dental Issues before needing traditional treatment modalities. If issues are caught early, they often can be arrested or reversed, as the body innately wants to heal and be in homeostasis.
If you don’t have ideal daily oral hygiene, pathogenic bacteria can build up in your mouth and cause dental issues such as gingivitis, dental caries, staining, and even dental infections, contributing to systemic health problems.
Prevalence of Poor Oral Health in Children
Tooth decay is the #1 chronic childhood disease, and untreated cavities can cause pain and infection, leading to eating, speaking, playing, and learning problems. Look at the following data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding Children’s Oral Health:
- About 20 percent of children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
- Around 13 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
- Children aged 5 to 19 years from low-income families are twice as likely to have cavities than children from higher-income households.
- Cavities left untreated can lead to pain and infections that cause eating, speaking, playing, and learning problems.
- Children with poor oral health often miss more school days and get lower grades than children with good oral health.
What to Expect at Your Child's First Dental Visit
The most important part of your child’s first dental visit is ensuring your child’s comfort so the visit stays positive.
During the dental exam, a Functional Dentist will check your child’s teeth for disease or any signs of decay, examine your child’s bite, and look for any potential problems with the gums and jaw, myofunctional issues, restricted frenums, or other signs of oral health-systemic issues and imbalances, such as gut health concerns, nutritional deficiencies, sleep disorders, or behavioral impacts. If indicated, your child may be referred to another whole-body healthcare provider for additional support as optimal systemic health often takes a team approach.
Schedule Regular Dental Check-Ups
Schedule regular dental check-ups every 6 months so your dentist can see if there are any changes to your child’s oral health. This way, any problems can be detected early on and addressed.
Develop Good Oral Hygiene At Home
Combine good practices at home with regular annual visits to your dentist to ensure dental caries and other problems are caught early, especially while the condition is still reversible.
Good oral hygiene begins with a daily routine of brushing, flossing, and rinsing. Sticking to this kind of routine removes plaque from your child’s teeth, which is important because if not removed, it combines with sugars to form acids that can lead to tooth decay and cavities.
Most importantly, do not let your child go to bed without brushing and flossing. Make dental hygiene a part of your family’s bedtime routine.
Wipe your baby’s gums twice a day with a soft clean cloth to get rid of bacteria and sugars that can cause cavities. Ideal times would be right after the first feeding in the morning and right before bed.
When your baby’s teeth come in, brush twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and plain water. Once more teeth erupt, you can transition to remineralizing toothpaste, like hydroxyapatite.
Parents should also think about oral hygiene while breastfeeding their infants. While breast milk alone does not cause cavities, it can accelerate tooth decay when it mixes with sugars and starches from foods and pathogenic microbes in the mouth. But this process does not need to be complicated. After feeding, gently rub your baby’s gums with a moist washcloth or gauze pad to remove any bacteria film and food remnants. You can also buy xylitol wipes for your baby’s gums, which can be great for middle-of-the-night sessions or if you are on the go.
Toddlers should brush their teeth just like you would brush a baby’s teeth. At this stage, though, you can use a small amount of toothpaste on a soft toddler toothbrush to clean all surfaces of the teeth. Generally, only a smear or grain of rice-sized amount is needed for brushing. DO NOT RINSE AFTER BRUSHING! Rinsing washes away all the benefits of your toothpaste! Doctor Staci recommends using hydroxyapatite toothpaste for babies and toddlers alike.
Remember, good oral hygiene means preventing and averting cavities and gum disease from ever starting!
Make Brushing Teeth Fun
If your child hates brushing and flossing, know that you are not alone. It can be more common to have a child who dislikes oral hygiene routines than a child who loves brushing and flossing.
Here are some tips to make this process less traumatic for everyone involved:
- Make oral hygiene non-negotiable. Remember, you are not hurting your child with brushing and flossing. They just generally don’t like it. Children also tend to hate diaper changes, face wipings, and hair washings, but parents still power through them as non-negotiables. Just know that some nights may be easier than others. The experience should not be super negative or stressful, but quick, fun, and efficient. Preventing oral disease from ever starting is the goal, as prevention is key to overall health.
- Try brushing and flossing on the changing table for very young children. You are likely to be at that changing table every morning and every night anyway, so streamline life a little and do it there. Laying kids of any age back on a changing table to brush and floss can help you see and be more accurate and efficient. Dentists lay patients back for a reason–so we can see what they are doing better!
Sing songs, chase animals around their mouths, have a dance party, or play memory games! For instance, you could talk about what your child ate at the last meal and chase those bits out.
“I see you had some eggs and broccoli today. Let’s get those bits out of your teeth!”
You know your child best. Keep it light and fun for them.
- Don’t force the whole “2-minute” brushing guideline. That timeframe is more beneficial for teens and adults. For young children, 1 minute of thorough cleaning is more than enough. Make sure you get the outsides by the cheeks and the insides by the tongue and floss daily wherever teeth touch, especially the back molars.
- Use charts for oral hygiene routines for older kids. Offer rewards at the end of a chart’s completion to make routines fun.
- Use tooth brushing and flossing as a way for older kids to earn special things, like special outings, small toys, or screen time.
- Install a suction mirror for the shower and leave floss and a toothbrush/toothpaste in the shower to get older kids to floss regularly. Encourage them to clean their bodies and teeth at the same time! Also, check out GumChucks, as many kids think they are fun and easy to use.
Start Tooth-Friendly Diets Early
Dental health starts with what you put in your body. If your child’s body is not getting the nutrients it needs, it can affect the mouth and teeth. Diet is the foundation for oral care. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.
Adults and children need to eat an all-around healthy diet packed with whole foods. Here are a few nutrition tips to follow for optimal oral health:
- Eliminate ultra-refined carbohydrates. One of the critical changes you can make in your child’s diet is eliminating or limiting refined sugar and flour. Snacking is usually the biggest culprit here. Refined carbohydrates like chips, crackers, bars, pretzels, and cookies feed cavity-causing bacteria, allowing them to flourish and then release a surge of acid that can eventually erode tooth enamel. Instead, encourage your children to eat healthy snacks like fresh vegetables, cheese sticks, meat sticks, seaweed snacks, olives, pickles, nuts and seeds, and fruit. And work toward replacing sugary drinks or fruit juices with plain water throughout the day.
- Eat calcium-building foods. The enamel of your teeth is made of calcium phosphate. Your body needs calcium to keep your enamel strong and help fight tooth decay. Quality dairy products, dark, green leafy veggies, and fatty fish like salmon and sardines are great sources.
- Add Vitamin D3 and K2 to the diet. Our bodies need vitamin D3 to absorb calcium properly, and vitamin K2 works alongside vitamin D3 to bring calcium into your teeth and bones. Vitamin D3 can be found in salmon, sardines, egg yolks, quality dairy, and cod liver oil. Vitamin K2 can be found in various cheeses, egg yolks, sauerkraut, liver, natto, and butter. Knowing your Vitamin D levels is key, so work with your doctor to understand your levels and your needs. You may need to supplement beyond foods.
- Eat A Rainbow daily! Prebiotic fiber helps support and feed your beneficial bacteria, crowding out harmful bacteria and adding phytonutrients and essentials to support optimal health.
- Use probiotics for the mouth and the gut. A healthy oral microbiome (good bacteria in your mouth) is beneficial to the health of your mouth and your gut. The two are like “kissing cousins,” which significantly influences the other. Quality probiotics help you support these good microbes.
Follow these simple steps to help your child make healthy decisions that support healthier smiles for a lifetime.
Learn More About First Dental Visits with Doctor Staci
As a child’s baby teeth erupt, oral health becomes increasingly important. Doctor Staci regularly posts tips and advice for parents who want to make brushing fun for their littlest ones. Follow Doctor Staci on Instagram or TikTok to learn more helpful tips that encourage good oral health for you and your family.