baby at dentist

When Should a Child Have Their First Dental Visit?

July 8, 2019

Let’s be real. Taking your child to their first dental visit? Probably not top on your list of fun ways to spend the afternoon. You know it is important to schedule regular dental exams for babies and children, but...really? Do you have to?

Some of the questions that might go through your head before you make that first call to the dentist: When exactly should I schedule my child’s first dental visit? Or: Why do I take my child to the dentist when her baby teeth just fall out anyway? Or even: How in the world do babies sit still enough for a dental exam?

The thought of scheduling a dental exam for a baby makes many parents break out in hives, but there is a bright spot to all this worry. Your child’s first dental visit is actually pretty quick and easy, and over the long term, establishing a dental home early helps reduce stress for both you and your child.

Your Child’s First Dental Visit Before Age One

If you aren’t sure when to schedule your child’s first dental visit, you’re not alone. University of Michigan Health surveyed 2,000 parents with kids under age five and found that over half (55%) didn’t get any instruction from their baby’s pediatrician about when to start dental exams. Many parents just don’t know enough about that first dental visit or what to expect when they arrive with their child.

To set the record straight once and for all, here’s the rub on dental exams for babies and children:

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends a baby’s first dental exam happen within six months after the first tooth appears, but no later than the child’s first birthday.

The majority of children get their first baby tooth by six months old, but some kids stay toothless until fourteen or fifteen months. So if your child is a late bloomer in the tooth department, don’t wait. If you haven’t seen any teeth yet, schedule your child’s first dental visit for around the same time as their one-year well child check.

Sign up for MySmile

Free and easy-to-use tools that make navigating your dental benefits a whole lot simpler.

Get Started

The Long Road to a Set of Healthy Chompers

As with most things in the crazy world of parenting, we play the long game here. When it comes to dental exams for babies, starting early builds a solid foundation for lifelong oral health. A child’s first dental exam is important, even though her mouth is still pretty empty of pearly whites.

During your child’s first visit, the dentist checks for early signs of decay. Early tooth decay is tough to spot in adults, let alone in young children with itty bitty teeth. Don’t wait until you notice problems - start those trips to the dentist at an early age.

At your child’s first dental visit, the dentist also checks for healthy growth and development by examining bite, gums, and overall structure of the mouth and jaw. And as a bonus, you might score some quality tips for soothing a teething baby and saving your sleep-deprived sanity.

What to Expect at Your Child’s First Dental Visit

A dental exam for a baby typically lasts about 30-45 minutes. Sometimes, this includes a gentle cleaning, but don’t be surprised if a cleaning doesn’t happen during the first visit.

At your child’s first dental visit, expect to answer questions about his or her medical history. Bring a list of any medications, the name and contact number of your pediatrician, and information about your dental insurance.

At your child’s first dental visit, the dentist also checks for healthy growth and development by examining bite, gums, and overall structure of the mouth and jaw. And as a bonus, you might score some quality tips for soothing a teething baby and saving your sleep-deprived sanity.

If you are nervous, it helps to write down questions beforehand so you don’t forget them in the hustle and bustle.

Tips for a Positive Trip to Your Child’s Dentist

If your child turns into a banshee during new experiences, don’t worry. Experts at Mouth Healthy for the ADA remind parents that dental professionals expect a child’s first dental visit to be a little rough.

“If your child cries a little or wiggles during the exam, don’t worry,” say the experts at Mouth Healthy. “It’s normal, and your dental team understands this is a new experience for your child.”

Whew.

It’s also okay to sit your baby or young child on your lap for their first dental visit. Even if a child is capable of sitting alone in the dental chair, a lot of parents opt for the lap the first time around.

Many dentists recommend scheduling dental exams for babies and young children in the morning, when most kids are rested and more cooperative.

Also remember: a calm parent is one of the best recipes for a successful trip to the dentist. If your personally panic within a two-mile radius of the dentist’s office, take steps to reduce your own stress before and during the appointment.

Does Insurance Cover Dental Exams for Babies?

And finally, the pocketbook. Raising a child is expensive, but at least going to the dentist doesn’t have to be.

Most dental insurance plans have low or no out-of-pocket costs for routine checkups and cleanings. Dental exams for babies usually fall under this category of “routine care.” This means that unless the dentist finds cavities or other unexpected problems, you probably pay little or nothing for your child’s first dental visit.

That being said, every insurance plan is different, so check with your insurance provider about the specifics of your coverage. After that? Go forth, schedule a first dental exam for your baby, and check one item off your new-parent to-do list.