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Your baby’s first year is marked by all kinds of developments and new experiences. One experience that is often overlooked is your baby’s first visit to the dentist. This is an important appointment and one that needs to be scheduled properly in order to promote your baby’s optimal oral health. So, when should you schedule this first appointment? How soon should you start instilling the value of good oral hygiene and habits?

Experts at the American Dental Association (ADA) and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) have determined that the best time to book your baby in for his or her first dentist appointment is six months after the primary teeth begin to arrive. As with all development, this will vary from one baby to the next, but no matter when your baby starts showing signs of teething, you should have that first visit booked before he or she turns one year old.

Sound early? There is good reason for this recommendation…

Get a Jump on Your Baby’s Best Oral Hygiene

When your baby is born he or she already has 20 primary teeth – commonly referred to as baby teeth – growing in their gums. These teeth are critical placeholders for what will eventually grow, or “erupt” as primary teeth. These first little teeth begin to show when a baby turns six months to one year old. Usually, you can expect to see the first four primary teeth erupt on the upper and lower front gum lines. Although all babies are different and development is unique to each one, all 20 primary teeth will erupt by the time a child turns three years old.

This chart helps show approximately when primary teeth erupt and then fall out or “shed” to make way for permanent teeth.

So, a central incisor – usually one of the first to erupt – will appear anywhere between 8-12 months of age, but won’t actually fall out or shed until a child turns six or seven years old. That’s a considerable length of time for a tooth to potentially be neglected simply because it’s only temporary. And that’s the assumption that many parents take for granted. Yes, these primary teeth will be replaced, but investing in good oral hygiene early on is important to developing your child’s longterm oral health.

No different than permanent teeth, primary teeth suffer decay. Oral bacteria turn food and beverages into acid, which then interacts with the surface of each tooth for a minimum of 20 minutes. Without proper cleaning and care, this acid becomes decay, and your child will develop cavities – just the way adults do if they neglect to floss and brush regularly and keep up with their routine dental appointments.

As tempting as it might be to calm a baby at bedtime with a bottle left in their crib, dentists advise against this. Milk or juice will puddle around the teeth, giving acid plenty of time to turn to decay. Yet another reason to keep sugary drinks and snacks to a minimum and brush as soon after consumption as possible.

Devote Time to Find Your Dental Home Base

Another excellent reason to start bringing your baby to the dentist sooner than later is that you want to establish a dental home base that you can rely upon, for regular check ups and emergencies. Speaking of emergency issues, when it comes to helping your child off on the right foot, timing is everything. Don’t wait for a problem to arise before bringing your child to the dentist. Treat the first visit as you would a well-child appointment to your pediatrician. This alleviates any undue anxiety or apprehension about visiting a new place or interacting with new people. If you’re someone who dreads their dental appointment, do your best to keep those nerves in check. Even babies can sense when something is amiss and the last thing you want is to create an environment that instills concern in your child.

At Your Baby’s First Visit to the Dentist

On the subject of timing – consider your baby’s schedule, which of course, can change on a dime. But do your best to arrange an appointment at a time when your baby won’t be hungry or in need of a nap. Eliminating as many obstacles as possible will ensure that your baby’s first visit to the dentist is a successful one.

At this first visit, your dentist will teach you the very best ways to care for your baby’s teeth, and may even recommend specific age-appropriate products to help you do this. Some dentists will even make suggestions about diet and nutrition, and share information with you about cavity-prevention options like fluoride treatments or dental sealants.

As your child grows, you’ll want to have this relationship established with your dentist so that he or she can better track your child’s needs and progress. When your baby develops into a toddler, you can expect that your dentist will administer his or her first tooth cleaning. This is a great opportunity to discuss other perfectly normal childhood habits that could have a negative impact on your child’s proper dental development – like thumb sucking. Whenever possible, it’s great to have a one-stop shop for your entire family, allowing your dentist to get to know all of you and your unique needs.

So, keep a close eye on your baby’s primary teeth as they come in and plan to schedule your baby’s first dental appointment six months thereafter. Remember – don’t wait until your baby reaches his or her first birthday. Be proactive about establishing that relationship and positive oral hygiene pattern sooner than later.

The teething stage isn’t fun for babies or parents, but your dentist can help you make the best of it by caring for those primary teeth as they prepare for their permanent ones. Make another first-year memory with your new baby and treat that first visit to the dentist the way you would any other important milestone this year.