I always thought a kiddo needed to have a mouth with the entire set of teeth before a trip to the dentist was necessary, but the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association suggest booking that first dental visit around baby’s first birthday or when those first baby teeth emerge.
The thing is, most parents don’t book that early. A recent poll by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan found 1 in 6 parents who did not receive advice from a health care provider believed age 4 is the right age to start dentist visits—but it’s actually years later than doctors and dentists would like.
"These visits are important for the detection and treatment of early childhood tooth decay and also a valuable opportunity to educate parents on key aspects of oral health,” says Mott poll co-director Sarah Clark in a media release.
About 40% of the parents in the Mott poll has not yet taken their child for a dental appointment. Forty-two percent mistakenly believed their child was not yet old enough to go to the dentist, 15% worried their child would be scared, and about a quarter of moms and dads said their child’s teeth were healthy anyway.
According to Clark, it’s actually kind of hard for parents to know if that last one is true. "Parents may not notice decay until there's discoloration, and by then the problem has likely become significant," she says.
Getting kiddos to the dentist early means baby tooth decay can be detected early, and issues that could become painful problems down the road can be nipped in the bud.
According to Clark’s team, it’s understandable that parents aren’t aware that dental visits should start so early. “Recommendations have changed over the years, so parents who rely on their own experience, or advice from family members, may be hearing outdated advice,” they note.