Find out what to expect from that first visit.

Q: My daughter turns 1 next month. When should she have her first dental appointment, and what can we expect?

A: Many parents are surprised by the answer to this question, “First visit by first birthday!”

Dental problems can begin early, with 1 in 4 children in the United States having had at least one cavity by age 4. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children have their first dental checkup by their first birthday.

So, what can you expect at your child’s first visit?

It will be a fairly quick appointment where much of time is spent talking with the parent. You will be asked a series of questions to help identify risk factors that can affect your child’s oral health. Be prepared to answer questions about your child’s medical conditions, diet, feeding practices, teething, habits such as pacifier or thumb-sucking, and exposure to fluoride. The dentist will examine your child’s teeth in the “knee-to-knee” position. In this position, you and the dentist sit on chairs facing each other with your child sitting on your lap, facing you. You then lower the child’s head onto the dentist’s lap, so you and the dentist can see clearly into your child’s mouth and your child can look up at you. The dentist will assess the overall growth and development of teeth and oral tissues. If plaque is present, the dentist may clean the teeth with a soft toothbrush and demonstrate the appropriate method for cleaning.

After the exam, the dentist will provide tips regarding teething and development, how to prevent cavities, proper use of fluoride, ways to prevent accidents and trauma to the teeth, diet and oral hygiene instructions. You also will be given the opportunity to ask questions about your child’s oral health.

After your child’s visit, a follow-up appointment will be scheduled. Routine evaluations are recommended every six months.

Always consult your child’s pediatrician concerning your child’s health.

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Homa Amini, DDS, MS, MPH, is a member of the Section of Pediatric Dentistry at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.