Q: What age do you suggest children should be for their first dental exam?

—Rebecca, Beverly Hills, FL

A: This is a common question for parents to ask me. The American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend that children see a dentist and establish a “dental home” by the age of one year.

There are a few reasons to bring your toddler to the dentist. A child's first dental visit will introduce her to a new environment. If you wait until the child has a dental issue, then her association with the dentist will be negative: fear, anxiety, and discomfort. On the other hand, if you first familiarize her with the dental environment through a few light visits, the positive tone will be set for the future.

Some typical interactions a baby would experience on her first visit to my office: meet me and my staff, sit in the dental chair, wear a dental bib, see the instruments, push the button on 'Mr. Llama' (the water syringe) and 'Mr. Slurpy' (the suction device).

The dentist will also assess your toddler's tooth growth and development, check for decay, and discuss with you any further suggested examination or treatment. Although your child's teeth might have peeked through the gums only recently, they are susceptible to decay-causing bacteria and their effects at first sip or suckle.

We sometimes see young children with severe tooth decay, which we call 'baby bottle tooth decay' ('caries del biberón' en español), as a result of parents habitually letting babies fall asleep with a bottle and giving them lots of sugary food or drink, including fruit juices.

Your child's first appointment will also be a great educational visit for the parents. I explain concepts like nutrition, tooth decay, and fluoride. We will also discuss habits such as thumb sucking and pacifier use, which can affect the palate and bite.

I also give parents instruction in brushing their little one's teeth and gums, which my boys loved as babies, but now just want to do by themselves.

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