Condition of first few teeth can predict future problems, earlier visits help
(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – By the time babies get their first few teeth, parents should already be scheduling their first trip to the dentist. In fact, according to revised guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, your child should see a dentist by the time they turn one.
“The age of the first dental visit has changed somewhat over the years,” said Paul Casamassimo, DDS, MS, chief of Dentistry at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Originally, it was thought kids could see the dentist when they were ready for school, and so 5 years of age was the recommendation,” he said. “Then, it was lowered to the age of three.”
But even by the age of three, damage was already obvious in many children, fueled, in part, by high-sugar diets and poor dental hygiene. “By the time they are 3 or 4 years of age, one in five kids already has tooth decay,” said Casamassimo, who is also a professor of Pediatric Dentistry at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. “That’s why we’ve now lowered the age of the first visit to one.”
“I think a lot of parents might be surprised by that,” said Jane Abel, the mother of a four year old and 11 month old. “With my daughter, we followed the 3-year rule,” she said. But if she waits that late with her son, Jane may be waiting two years too long.
“When you think about your child’s first year of life, you’re thinking about getting vaccines, getting good nutrition and things like that,” she said. “Going to the dentist isn’t necessarily top of mind.”
But experts say it should be. “If a child experiences tooth decay in their baby teeth, they’re more likely to have tooth decay in their permanent teeth,” said Dr. Casamassimo. “That begins a process early in life that is very difficult to stop.”
Long before the recommended age was lowered to one year, Dr. Casamassimo and his colleagues were already focused on good oral health of babies. In the early 1990’s, Casamassimo helped open the Baby Dental Clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, one of the first and few clinics in the country that services children just a few months old.
“We see 35,000 patients each year,” Casamassimo said, “and a growing number of them are one year of age or even younger,” he said. “We want to see a child and a family at that age,” he added, “so we can give them vital information to prevent tooth decay from ever happening in the first place.”
If you have a baby or toddler at home, Casamassimo and his team offer this advice:
-Move your child off the bottle as soon as possible. Children need to be drinking from some type of cup no later than age one.
-To get them used to the idea, you should start brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as they come in. Be a positive role model by brushing with your child, make brushing time fun and be sure to do it consistently.
-Confine sugar intake to mealtime. Never give your child sugar-sweetened drinks to pacify them during naps or throughout the day.
“We know that frequency of sugar exposure is really what causes tooth decay in kids,” said Dr. Casamassimo. “If they’re constantly exposed to sugar throughout the day, there is a much greater likelihood that they’re going to get tooth decay.”