When it comes to caring for an infant, most parents are well aware of the need for routine pediatrician visits as part of their baby’s health care regimen. What’s less well-recognized is the importance that early and regular dental care plays. For optimal oral health, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that dental visits begin with the appearance of a child’s first tooth as an effective way to kick-start a lifelong program of preventive dental care.
One Baby Tooth + One Pediatric Dental Visit = Zero Cavities
“The ‘first-tooth visit’ lets the pediatric dentist check for proper oral and facial development, see if the teeth are growing in properly, and detect early tooth decay,” says H. Pitts Hinson, president of the AAPD. “It also gives the dentist a chance to walk parents through a complete program of home dental care for the child.”
Tooth decay, even in the earliest stages of life, can have serious implications for a child’s long-term health and well-being-and it’s becoming more of a problem every day. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comparing the dental health of Americans in 1988-1994 and 1999-2002 found a 15.2 percent increase in cavities among two- to five-year olds. In addition, the U.S. Surgeon General has identified tooth decay as the most common childhood disease.
A possible contributor to this trend is the fact that only three out of five children visit a dentist at least once a year. While parents may avoid taking a child to the dentist to save money, studies show that children who have their first dental visit before age one have 40 percent lower dental costs in their first five years than children who don’t, making preventive care a sound health and economic decision.
Without preventive care, the impact of tooth decay on child development can be striking. A study in Pediatric Dentistry showed that children with cavities were significantly more likely to weigh less than 80 percent of their ideal body weight. Even more disturbing is evidence that the effects of poor oral health may be felt for a lifetime. Emerging research suggests that improper oral hygiene may increase a child’s risk of having low-birth-weight babies, developing heart disease or suffering a stroke as an adult.
No one is better-equipped to care for primary teeth than pediatric dentists. Pediatric dentists complete two to three years of advanced training after dental school, preparing them to address the unique needs of infants, children and adolescents-including those with special health care requirements. Having the first dental visit in an office designed for kids before the onset of any tooth problems establishes trust and confidence in dental care in children that can carry over into adulthood.
Of course, there are great ways to help your baby before they even get their first tooth. Dental care for baby teeth can start before your baby’s first tooth appears. Once your baby is about 3 months old, you can gently wipe your baby’s gums using a damp, clean face washer or gauze twice a day. This helps your baby get ready for brushing when the first tooth appears. And of course there are teething toys available.
Early oral care for your baby is crucial for their dental health down the road as they grow.