Providing oral health education to families is essential to teaching children healthy habits and preventing early childhood tooth decay.
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Many parents may not know their 1-year-olds are ready for their first dental checkup, but more and more dentists agree that the earlier children visit the dentist, the better.
The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) and the American Dental Association (ADA) are just two of the organizations that recommend bringing children to the dentist six months after they get their first tooth, usually sometime between 1 year and 18 months of age.
"When teeth start to come in, we need to teach parents about nutrition and the growth and development of the child and their teeth," says AGD spokesperson Cynthia Sherwood, DDS.
While age-1 visits are recommended for all children, they could prove especially beneficial for children who drink liquids other than water. Acids and sugars in juices, formulas and breast milk can all lead to decay. Visiting the dentist at age 1 helps spot early signs of decay and cavities in baby teeth. It could also help put a major dent in childhood oral disease, which affects an estimated 2.5 million children nationwide and often results in lifelong problems that are painful, expensive and not just limited to the mouth.
"There's a common misconception that they're just baby teeth, and they aren't important," says Dr. Sherwood. "But really, it's about establishing good oral care habits."
The age-1 visit won't just involve the child – parents also participate, typically holding the child while the dentist takes a look inside the child's mouth. The dentist will then spend time discussing proper eating and tooth-care habits with parents to help head the child in the right direction, so future dental visits aren't so scary.
Updated: February 2007
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