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Need to Know

When Should Your Kid Start Seeing the Dentist?

By: Karen Cicero

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A couple of weeks ago, I was at a baby shower with a bunch of new moms, and the talk at my table turned to teeth. Baby teeth, of all things. I’ll spare you all the details -- after all, you’re not getting a pink and blue cake pop if you stick around -- but I promised the moms I’d find out the answer to a question they had: At what age should a child start seeing the dentist?

Some reported that their pediatricians recommended an office visit at 1 year, another said 2 years, and a couple thought it should be more like age 3 or 4. That’s some range!

And I’d hate to admit it, but I don’t even remember when my daughter, now 9, saw a dentist for the first time. I’m guessing it was between 2 and 3, but I can’t be sure -- I slacked off the scrapbooking after the first year.

To get the lowdown for my new mommy friends, I called Dr. Pamela Stover-Mejias, dentist and spokeswoman for the Academy of General Dentistry. She was confident in her answer: “The first dental visit should take place about six months after a child’s first tooth has erupted.” And when does that happen? “Usually between 6 months and 1 year,” she says. So, most kids should have their first dental appointment when they’re 12 to 18 months old.

Hmmm. That timeframe seemed a little early to me. After all, a child may have only two or three teeth total at the first visit. (Check out this neat photo gallery that has the order in which baby teeth appear.) But once I ran across this new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that almost 25 percent of 2- to 5-years-olds already have a cavity, I totally understood the point to getting kids in the office as soon as possible.

Stover-Mejias noted that the purpose of the first visit is not just to examine the child’s teeth and gums. That first visit is essential to give advice to the parents about tooth-brushing, eating habits and other factors that will affect their child’s smile for years to come. “And we can get it all done in about 15 minutes,” notes Stover-Mejias. Now that seems like time well spent!

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Read more about: Oral Care

Karen Cicero

is Completely You’s Need to Know blogger. A health journalist and magazine editor with more than 15 years of experience, she has contributed to such publications as Prevention, SELF and Health, and she has edited the dental column for Heart & Soul magazine.

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