September 2, 1997
Dental health experts say a lifetime of strong healthy
teeth begins with a child's first visit to the dentist.
And they say it should be scheduled even when children
still have their baby teeth.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the
American Society of Dentistry for Children recommend a
first dental visit between the ages of six months and one
"The most important thing is that we see the
children early," says Dr. Teddi Litman, a
Florida-based pediatric dentist who practices at offices
in Kendall and Hialeah. "Dental problems develop as
soon as the teeth develop, and children start getting
their teeth at six months of age."
According to Litman, "oftentimes the child is
sleeping with the bottle and can have a lot of cavities,
or caries, by age 12 months from such improper bottle
Like many of her colleagues, Litman says early efforts
aimed at good dental hygiene are important because they
help avoid the need for treatment when the child is very
She views the first visit as a time to check how the
teeth are developing, to look for decay and the
detrimental affects of oral habits such as thumb-sucking,
and to share information with the family.
Although Litman says she typically sees children at
around age 2 years for their first dental exam, she
acknowledges "that part of getting them started
early is getting them acclimated to having people stick
fingers in their mouth and having their mouth looked
During the first visit, the dentist, hygienist, or
assistant shows parents how to properly clean the child's
teeth and mouth. "We encourage the parents to start
brushing the teeth as soon as the teeth come in,"
Litman says. "I like to see children every six
months and start the first (office) cleanings at around
age three or four."
Some tips for making that first visit memorable - but for
- Select a dentist who is caring, friendly, and makes the
child's first visit a special occasion. "Try for a
pediatric dental office where everybody is used to seeing
young children and where the office is set up with
children in mind, with a play area or children's waiting
room," Litman recommends.
- If possible, let the child observe a dental exam
involving an older sibling or family member. "It's
helpful if they can see another child having a first
dental visit, says Litman. "This is better than
bringing the child in to just look at the office before
the scheduled visit."
- Avoid instilling anxiety about going to the dentist.
"Probably the biggest stumbling block is the
parent's anxiety, and children are very receptive and
pick up on their parent's fears," Litman says.
- Select an appointment time that is best for the child.
Early morning often is best, Litman says. "With very
young children, a late appointment may come at a time
when they're more cranky."
The bottom line to parents from dental experts: Let your
child learn from your example. They say this means brush
twice a day, floss at least once daily, visit the dentist
regularly, and select foods carefully - checking the
nutritional value and sugar content.