Q&A With Dr Emma
Hi Dr Emma. At what age should you book your child’s first dental examination? I know the schools run a dental service, can it wait until then, or is it best to start earlier than that? Thanks. Claire from Tapping, WA.
The current recommendation is that a child have their first dental appointment between 6 and 12 months of age, depending on when their teeth come through. By the time they are eligible for care through the school system, the average child will have had their full complement of baby teeth present in their mouth for 2-3 years. That's plenty of time for problems like decay to become well established, and the last thing I want as a dentist is to be seeing a child for the first time when they are scared and in pain.
For my patients with small children, I recommend that they bring their child along to one of the parent's check-ups. It's important to teach children that having your teeth checked is just another part of life, and is not something that is painful or needs to be feared. Small children learn brilliantly by modelling behaviour they see in their family. Experiencing a parent being calm and cooperative in the dental chair can be a tremendous help. Note that if you are a nervous patient yourself, bringing your child along to watch you sweat may not be the best way to go.
An early, positive dental experience will familiarise your child with the dental environment. Continued positive experiences every year will desensitise your child to the seemingly strange smells, sounds and sensations of visiting the dentist. The aim is to build their confidence with each visit so they are happy to cooperate for their check-ups.
With this in mind, check with your dentist whether or not they are keen to see children. Some dentists just prefer not to treat young ones, while others relish the challenge and the excuse to be silly for half an hour. If your dentist is an adults-only zone, ask for a referral to a specialist paediatric dentist.
If you and your dentist are able to give your child a great experience, it will set him/her up for a lifetime of stress-free dental care. Then when the time comes to visit the School Dental Service, your child will breeze through without a worry.