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What to expect for your child's first dental visit

Posted on March 7, 2024 in Healthy You

image of toddler at the dentist

Your child's journey toward excellent oral health begins earlier than you might think — ideally, children should have their first dental visit by their first birthday or within 6 months after their first tooth pops through.

Surprisingly, many American children don't have their initial dental visit until they are 3 years old or even older, a delay that can set the stage for potential oral health issues. Cavities can sneak in as soon as that first tooth appears, which could be as early as 6 months. So, it’s important to get that first dental appointment on the calendar when you see your child’s first tooth appear or by age 1 if your child hasn’t yet sprouted a tooth.

The importance of the first dental check-Up

During your child’s first dental appointment, a dentist or hygienist will look at your child's teeth, gums and overall mouth to ensure that everything is developing on schedule. Specifically, they'll be on the lookout for cavities, gum problems and any signs of mouth injuries. Depending on your child's age and risk for tooth decay, the dentist may give a gentle tooth cleaning and recommend a fluoride treatment.

What to expect during the appointment

Your dentist will share guidance on how you can meet the unique needs of infant dental care, including demonstrating brushing and flossing techniques specifically designed for your baby's delicate mouth. Moreover, your dentist will answer questions about how to safely use fluoride, along with sharing nutrition advice that will support healthy teeth and gums.

The first appointment isn’t just for kids

The first dental appointment is as much an educational opportunity for parents as it is an exam for your child.

This appointment is an ideal opportunity for you to ask questions about your child, including their teething and feeding. It’s a good idea to be prepared with your child’s medical history, any medications and prior oral health concerns to discuss with the dentist.

Dental care tips for young children

Your dentist will provide strategies specific to your child’s development during the appointment, but here are some general tips to foster healthy teeth and gums through childhood:

  • Before teeth come in, clean gums by gently wiping them with a clean and damp cloth.
  • Do not send your baby to nap or bed with a baby bottle filled with milk or any sweetened beverage. This is a recipe for tooth decay.
  • Begin tooth brushing as soon as the child’s first tooth comes in.
  • Use a grain-of-rice-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste up to age 3; increase to a pea-sized amount for kids ages 3 to 6.
  • Begin flossing once your child has two or more neighboring teeth.
  • Always use clean water to clean a pacifier; don’t use your mouth.
  • Use teething rings, cool spoons or cold washcloths to relieve gum pain during teething.
  • Try to break a pacifier or thumb-sucking habit before age 3 to keep baby teeth in proper alignment.

The first step toward a life of good oral health

Your child’s first dental visit sets the stage for a lifetime of healthy smiles. By getting this appointment on the calendar during your child’s first year, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing their oral health is well protected.

As your child approaches their first birthday (or earlier if they are beginning to sprout teeth), it’s important to add them to your dental insurance plan sooner rather than later. Delta Dental of Iowa dental plans cover twice yearly preventive visits at no additional cost (and yes, young children should see their dentist every 6 months just like adults). If you’re looking for a new dentist, visit Delta Dental of Iowa’s online Find a Provider tool to easily locate a quality, in-network dentist near you.


Stanford Medicine