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Parents frequently ask me when their young child should first see the dentist. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that children be seen shortly after their first tooth erupts and no later than their first birthday. As any parent knows, many babies and toddlers are not ready to cooperate with a full dental exam at this young age.

Our O’Fallon dental office may perform visual exams on children who are very young while the child sits comfortably in the parent’s lap. In the first couple years, the mouth is so small and the teeth are so few that a quick visual exam may be able to tell us what we need to know without having to perform a full exam with tools. At this age, we find it most helpful to have a discussion with the parents on proper dental care for young teeth and how to avoid any major problems, like baby bottle tooth decay.

In our office we try to keep these first few dental appointments calm and fun so that the child can associate the dentist with a positive experience. We don’t force young children to cooperate in ways that make them fearful because dentistry is often associated with anxiety anyway. I have treated many adult patients who still have dental anxiety due to unpleasant childhood experiences at the dentist.

As a team, parents and the dental office can work together to make going to the dentist an enjoyable and fear free experience for their children.