When it comes to caring for a baby, most parents are aware of the need for routine pediatrician visits as part of their baby’s health care regimen. What is less recognized is the importance of early and regular dental care. For optimal oral health, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that visits to the dentist begin with the appearance of a child’s first tooth as an effective way to start a program of lifelong preventive dental care.
One baby tooth + one pediatric dental visit = zero cavitie
“The ‘first tooth visit’ allows the pediatric dentist to check for proper oral and facial development, see if teeth are growing properly, and detect early tooth decay,” says H. Pitts Hinson, president of the AAPD. “It also gives the dentist the opportunity to guide parents through a comprehensive home dental care program for the child.”
Tooth decay, even in the early stages of life, can have serious implications for a child’s long-term health and well-being, and it is becoming more and more of a problem every day. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comparing the dental health of Americans in 1988-1994 and 1999-2002 found a 15.2 percent increase in cavities among children ages two to five. . Additionally, the US Surgeon General has identified tooth decay as the most common childhood disease.
One possible contributor to this trend is the fact that only three out of five children visit the dentist at least once a year. While parents can avoid taking a child to the dentist to save money, studies show that children who have their first visit to the dentist before their first birthday have 40 percent lower dental costs in their first five years than do children who do not, which makes preventive care a sound financial and health decision.
Without preventive care, the impact of tooth decay on child development can be surprising. A study in Pediatric Dentistry showed that children with cavities were significantly more likely to weigh less than 80 percent of their ideal body weight. Even more disturbing is the evidence that the effects of poor oral health can be felt throughout life. Emerging research suggests that poor oral hygiene can increase a child’s risk of having low-birth-weight babies, developing heart disease, or suffering a stroke in adulthood.
No one is better equipped to care for temporary teeth than pediatric dentists. Pediatric dentists complete two to three years of advanced training after dental school, preparing them to address the unique needs of infants, children, and adolescents, including those with special health care needs. Having the first visit to the dentist in an office designed for children before the onset of any dental problems establishes confidence in children’s dental care that can continue into adulthood.