Baby's First Visit

Baby's First Dental Visit
by Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH

One of the top ten questions we are asked by patients is, “When should I bring my child for their first visit?” Parents are getting conflicting advise. Pediatricians are recommending children see dentists with their first tooth, which is good advise. That's what the textbooks say too. It seems, though, that the majority of general dentists recommend that a child be three years old. There is something about the difference in manageability between a one-year-old and a three year old. Is that best for the child?

I have had need to modify my own personal position on this matter just last week. Two different three-year-old children came in to our office on two separate days. Both were good little boys, both from regular families. One had seven cavities, the other had decay in each of his 20 little teeth. These little boys were a sad sight. I know that the majority of that decay could have been avoided.

The goal of bringing a small child into the dentist is primarily to have a good experience in what can be a scary place. Masked people running around, chairs that lay back on their own power, sharp instruments and gagging. Everything tastes bad and feels weird. If the child's first visit is because of dental pain, that feeling of pain and loss of control will last a lifetime. So, bring them in early, for their first tooth.

Here are some tips for making the appointment successful:
  • If your gums bleed when you have your teeth cleaned, do not bring the child to watch. It's just too much for them.
  • Never say it doesn't hurt. Kids know you lie about that. When you come home from a dental visit comment on how good your teeth feel.
  • If your child does need restorative treatment, tell them you do not know how doctors fill baby teeth. You're just glad that they know how.
  • If you are allowed into the treatment room, please, do not parrot what the doctor or dental hygienist says. They need to build rapport with the child.

What will happen at the first appointment with a child not in pain? Dentists and Hygienists take into consideration the child's needs, and how important each procedure is for them. It may be that the child gets to ride in the chair and that's it! We do take x-rays on children. Primary teeth are replaced at some point, but they are vitally important for the time they are in the mouth.

If you, the parent, have a lot of active decay, schedule your child for an examination. The germs that cause cavities are transmissible; that is, dental decay is a contagious disease. If the parent has a lot of decay, the chances are good that the child has or will have it too. Prevention is our game and if we get a child early enough we can apply fluoride varnishes or catch the cavities when they are very small and virtually painless. If the child is under three, take them to a pediatric dentist. They are much more prepared for the needs of a small child with a single tooth.

Shirley Gutkowski RDH, BSDH is a graduate of Marquette University and a practicing hygienist since 1986. She is published in print and on the Internet. She is president of the Madison component of the Wisconsin Dental Hygienists Association, and she is on the dental hygiene advisory board of 3M ESPE. Ms. Gutkowski also provides continuing education and live presentations to various groups through Cross Link Presentations. She can be contacted at