So when should you take your baby to the dentist? Much earlier than you may think.
The British Dental Association advises taking your baby as young as possible – certainly once your baby starts teething and her first tooth comes through.
This doesn’t mean booking your 6-month-old baby in for a full check-up, but it’s a great idea to familiarise your baby with the sounds, sights and smells of the dental surgery.
That way, you’ll help prepare her for her first proper dental appointment, which she’ll be ready for between the age of 1 and 2.
The first trip to the dentist
One of the best ways to introduce your baby to the dentist is to take her along to your own dentist appointments. She can get used to the curious odours and even the high-pitched sound of the drill without the fear that many children and adults later attach to them.
Of course, you may need a friend or family member with you to look after your baby while you’re in the chair – wriggly babies and sharp implements in your mouth don’t mix well. And remember, try to hide any nervousness or fear you may be feeling as the dentist gloves up.
As your child gets older, she’ll see you sitting in that rather exciting dentist’s chair (up and down, up and down) and may want to get in it herself. It’s a great way to put her at her ease for when it’s her turn.
How to choose a dentist
You can register your baby with a dentist as soon as she’s born. Children get free dental treatment and check-ups on the NHS, up until the age of 18. And remember, for a year after you give birth (as well as while you’re pregnant), you can get free dental treatment too.
A good place to start is with your own dentist. Find out if the practice is child-friendly:
- Are they keen to have child patients?
- Does your dentist seem patient and able to cope with a squirming or fidgety child?
- Is there a kids’ corner or a playbox in the waiting room?
- Is there a fishtank to gaze at?
- Are there posters for children on the walls?
- Do they give stickers out to children?
However, you don’t need to use the same dentist. Ask friends, neighbours and your health visitor for local recommendations. You can also find details of all your local dentists on the NHS website.
Your child’s first check-up – what will happen?
It’s likely to be a short, relaxed appointment. The dentist will want to have a look at your child’s teeth and will be checking for:
- How many baby teeth are present
- How and where they’re growing
- Any signs of decay – signified by discolouration or spotting on the teeth
- How well the teeth are being cleaned
The dentist will encourage your child to keep brushing twice a day, and may show you the best way to do this. (Until your child is about 6 years old, she’ll need you to do this for her).
Dental decay can start very early. Some babies and toddlers can lose teeth through decay, particularly if they’re regularly sucking on a bottle of milk or fruit juice for long periods of time.
Your dentist may ask if your child regularly uses a dummy or sucks her thumb and talk to you about teeth-friendly foods and which sugary foods to avoid.
Finally, your child may be given some fun stickers or activity book – like a going home present!
Remember to set up your next appointment as you leave. Most dentists will want to see toddlers every six months, to ensure teeth are developing well.
Why see a dentist this early, when your baby’s milk teeth will fall out anyway?
It’s a good question with a clear answer. It’s vital that you look after your baby’s teeth carefully as soon as they appear, which includes making regular visits to the dentist. Milk teeth may not be permanent, but they’re hugely important for:
- your baby learning to chew
- healthy jaw growth
- speech development
- preparing gums and spaces for adult teeth to grow into
Remember to brush your child’s teeth twice a day, using a child’s toothbrush and toothpaste specially designed for children.