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Toddler's First Dentist Visit

Toddlers & the Dentist

By Amalah

Advice Smackdown ArchivesHi Amy and fellow avid readers:

1) Necessity of taking a 2 year old with seemingly healthy teeth to an actual dentist?

2) Pros and cons of spending $500 a year to bump up our dental insurance to a family plan vs. just paying for the child’s dental visits out of pocket for a few years?

DISCUSS

Thanks!
%@!* Dental Insurance

Ooh, good one. And one that — SURPRISE SURPRISE — I don’t have an easy, straightforward answer to. Probably because “easy, straightforward answers” simply do not exist in regards to anything parenting related and someday I will truly, finally accept this. But! Here goes:

1) Officially, the recommendations have changed, and it’s a big change: Both the American Academy of Pediatrics AND the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry now recommend that children visit a dentist BEFORE THEIR FIRST BIRTHDAY. Sometime between six and 12 months of age. I…I know. This is a big jump for those of us who were more used to the looser “between two and three YEARS of age” guideline.

Because that’s exactly what my pediatrician told me — dental visits weren’t even discussed until the two-year check-up, and it was presented more as a “give it a try, here’s a list of dentists we recommend.” I knew there was some talk and opinions about taking babies to the dentist as soon as the first tooth came in, but…I personally never really considered actually doing that. Taking even a six-month-old to the dentist sounds crazy to me, but…well, stuff changes. I guess that’s how our generation will all end up turning into our mother-in-laws someday, going on and on about how WE did things in OUR day and it was FINE and WHATEVER.

So my pediatrician’s (now-outdated) guidance was that first dental visits are more like practice runs to get small children used to the dentist…AND to possibly catch and correct any early problems/mistakes involving brushing technique, diet, bottle rot, thumbsucking, pacifiers, etc. The first visit typical doesn’t involve much hardcore cleaning or anything, but mostly a lot of talking. To you. Some of it will almost seem insulting (“TODDLERS SHOULD NOT DRINK SODA. AND THAT INCLUDES DIET SODA.”) but some of it will be helpful, like tips for ensuring that the nightly toothbrushing/wrangling is as effective as possible. If your child has the vocabulary and communication skills, a good pediatric dentist can very effectively explain the whole WHY we brush our teeth, in addition to making it a nice little game to get those ugly germs, brusha brusha brusha, etc.

Of course, Noah was absolutely USELESS at the dentist at two years old, thanks to his many sensory issues. Of which oral hypersensitivity was a BIIIIIG one. And he simply could not process anything about the visit — the chair, the lights, the PAPER BIB OMFG. Our first visit was a complete disaster and both our pede AND dentist (one recommended to us for special-needs kids) advised that we just go ahead and wait a little while longer before attempting a cleaning — like three, or even four, provided we employed a good brushing technique, used a flouride toothpaste (as opposed to the little baby training mouth cleaners), and promised not to give him like, sugar water and gummy bears for lunch. So dental visits got bumped way down our priority list until we felt there was a chance he could sit through one without screaming and panicking and being thoroughly FREAKING TRAUMATIZED. And his teeth are fine.

Ezra also hasn’t seen the dentist yet, and I didn’t realize that was now WRONG and SHAMEFUL because again, my pediatrician never brought it up until his two-year visit. He didn’t have his last set of molars yet, and I was told it was probably fine to wait for those, if I wanted. So I did. They came in last month, all sneaky-like, with barely any teething symptoms. I’m not so worried about Ezra, and I will take him to a pediatric dentist fairly soon-ish, because I actually think he’ll get something out of the visit, and might even enjoy it.

Basically, I’m still not entirely convinced that these very early dental visits are ESSENTIAL and doom and decay will surely result by waiting a little longer, but they aren’t a bad idea, at all. I think it depends on your kid and your dentist, their ability to communicate with each other, your child’s diet and your general sense of your own competence when it comes to taking care of their teeth. But I’d say it’s usually worth a try, just to be on the safe side, and on that note…

2) We originally did not put our kids on our dental insurance, until my nephew — at age three, with an otherwise perfectly healthy set of teeth — mysteriously and suddenly developed a raging abscess in his gums. It was VERY serious, like, risk-to-his-BRAIN-if-left-untreated serious. His very first visit to the dentist ended up being done under emergency circumstances.

My poor sister, of course, blamed herself for also delaying dental check-ups until he was older, or for doing something “wrong” with toothbrushing at home, but the dentist assured that it had NOTHING to do with that. It was just one of those weird, crazy things that happen. To this day, we don’t really know why it happened. But after quite a few visits to various dentists and specialists, my nephew’s teeth are not only JUST FINE, he actually LOVES going to the dentist.

However, we put our kids on our dental insurance after that. So far, we haven’t had to use it, thank goodness, but I have a real sense of RESPECT for the fact that kids’ oral heath is just as much of a ticking time bomb as the rest of their little bodies. Beyond check-ups and cavities, toddlers can (and do) knock teeth out and need oral surgery, for example. Not to mention the really weird stuff, like abscesses or adult teeth erupting prematurely or dental issues stemming from other health problems or complications. Dental insurance is just like any insurance gamble — you may not need it, you HOPE you won’t need it, but when something unexpected happens and the dentist hands you a $1,500 bill, you might be pretty darn happy to have it.

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If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected]

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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KelleyD
Guest
KelleyD

My husband and I followed the “within six months of the first tooth erupting or by the first birthday” My older son went for the first time when he was about a year old and has gone every six months since then. My younger son will be going for the first time in March and he’ll be about 11 months old. For most of the visit we have done “lap exams” you sit facing the dentist knee to knee and your baby/toddler/preschooler sits in your lap facing you and then lays back across the dentist’s lap. I think a big… Read more »

cindy
Guest
cindy

I had to laugh about the “do not give soda to toddlers” advice, because I have a friend who used to occasionally make her kids’ infant oatmeal using Coke. I swear to God. She admitted this, and didn’t see anything wrong with it. Her kids are all fine and healthy now (though picky eaters). Anyway, put your kids on your dental insurance! My daughter slipped on an icy sidewalk when she was about two and injured one of her front teeth. It turned gray, and she needed to see a pediatric dentist and get x-rays to assess the damage, and… Read more »

Rachel Meeks
Member

This makes me wonder if medical insurance would cover tooth injuries from accidents, like if your kid falls and a tooth falls out. I think I’ll go check mine.

I waited a long time to take my kid to the dentist because of her sensory issues, so she was four, but she had a great time. Going to a pediatric dentist instead of a general dentist was so worth it. They even gave her cute sunglasses to wear during her appointment.

Jess
Guest
Jess

We started my older son on dental visits at 2 years old. At 3, he had a raging cavity in one of his molars. I was mortified! The kid eats way less sugar than most kids and we brush religiously. It turns out that the enamel on his back tooth chipped.
The pediatric dentist said it was unforseeable and unpreventable – it just happens sometimes. Having a 3 year old on nitrous oxide (for the filling) was pretty funny, though.

Kat
Guest
Kat

Our pediatric dentist makes a fortune – but he needs to to be able to afford the huge fish tanks, matching scrubs and all the cool things he has in his office. He also changes twice as much and makes you pay cash up front and then submit to your insurer (which covers about 1/3 of the cost). Most regular dentists with even basic bedside manners can look at your kids teeth and let you know if you have issues. I would recommend this and it does get your kids sensitized to the dentist. Remember, some kids are getting their… Read more »

yasmara
Guest
yasmara

Get the insurance! My friend’s toddler had a cavity & they didn’t have insurance – anything dental-related is SUPER expensive without insurance. You’d easily go over the $500 in one visit. They ended up having an old family friend who was a dentist help them out, but if they had gone to a regular dentist it would have been very very expensive, even just to fill the cavity. Plus, if you are worried about putting heavy metals in your kids’ mouth (if they do get a cavity), the non-metal tooth-colored composite fillings can be hundreds more than the metal ones.… Read more »

Jeannie
Guest
Jeannie

I’m in Canada, so the insurance question is moot — if you’re unlucky enough not to have dental insurance, which is rare, the government pays for your kids. Here the advice is take your kids to the dentist after they cut their first teeth, but since mine cut teeth at five months and 4.5 months respectively I didn’t. Neither of them was eating solids for months afterwards. I took my son to the dentist around two and he goes yearly. So far we’ve been lucky that all his checkups have been fine (although we’re heading in next week so my… Read more »

Camille
Guest
Camille

Our 23 month old saw a pediatric dentist at around 13 months, and it was completely lame (I’m probably bitter because we drove a long way for a pediatric dentist and the only thing that catered to children was that they played cartoons in the waiting room….where we waited for a loooong time even though we had the first appnt of the day). She has an appnt to see our dentist later this month, although dental is covered under my family health plan (which she is on). One quick side note: my friend who is a denstist told me that… Read more »

JCF
Guest
JCF

Yikes. I’ve been thinking about taking my kids to the dentist, but delaying it since we don’t currently have dental insurance and my husband is a full-time student. I had figured I’d wait until he started his job (and got insurance) in June, but maybe I’ll have to look into what a visit would cost out-of-pocket. My kids are 3, 2, and 6 months, and they’ve never been. I haven’t taken my oldest, partly because he’s the type of kid to flip out or just straight refuse to open his mouth. Has anyone had experience taking a kid like this… Read more »

Jill
Guest
Jill

Yes to the insurance for those “just in case” scenarios.  My mom is a dental hygienist and she (and the dentist she works for) recommend first checkups at 3.  In her experience, anything before that is a waste of time and money for both her and the patient.  She says basically all they can do at that point is count the teeth, so it really isn’t worth it.  Obviously, pediatric dentists may have different ideas and each kid may have their own issues, but that’s her professional experience.  Never mind the whole “let’s see them starting at 6 months because… Read more »

Katie
Guest
Katie

I asked the hygenist in my dentist’s office the last time I was in…. she said to ignore any suggestions to bring a kid in before age 3. She said something along the lines of “trust me, no matter how good your kid is, we won’t be able to get a good look until at least age 3.” I really trust this practice and find them to be very competent, honest and fair. I’ll admit that I think the really young visits to a pediatraic dentist seem like a way to guilt parents into spending even more…

Ally
Guest
Ally

We started our kids at two and I’m really glad we did. It has gotten them used to going and also answered concerns I had. Our first visit was to a regular dentist and the other ones were to a pediatric one. The pediatric dentist was amazing. They are so good with the kids. They let my son touch and use everything before it goes in his mouth and are very patient with kids. We are lucky that our insurance covers all dental costs. 

Ginger
Guest

We went to see the pediatric dentist @ 13 months, just like our ped requested. The visit was free (check w/the practice you’re looking at, they may have a similar policy) and was more of a “let’s get acquainted” visit. The dentist told us that basically, their concern is knowing a patient and having a file in case of damage until the age of 2-3 (depending on the kid). Since our kid is crazy unruly we got the insurance (I can just see him barreling head first into a doorjam and knocking his teeth out). If it was just about… Read more »

Julie
Guest
Julie

My dentist has said not to worry about cleanings for the kids till they were about 3, but given the recommendations I was hearing elsewhere, I called a pediatric dentist to set up an appointment not too long after he turned one – it ended up being closer to 1.5 before he got in because there’s a long delay for new patient routine visits, as with most things. I was glad I did set it up that way though, because a few days before his appointment I noticed that one of his front teeth was turning grey, and was able… Read more »

Liz
Guest

We took my daughter to the dentist at 15 months (she will be 3 in May) after she fell and knocked out her front tooth. My pediatrician recommended it to make sure there wasn’t any damage from the impact. Since then, we have gone back every 6 months to check how her teeth are coming in, discuss a fake tooth option, etc. We did get x-rays one time and that was difficult. She has another appointment in 2 weeks for her first tooth cleaning. I’m hoping it is easy–she seems excited to go and we’ve been talking it up, trying… Read more »

Therese
Guest
Therese

Our pediatrician and my uncle (a dentist) both told me we didn’t need to worry about seeing a dentist until our son was 2 and really 3 was okay. His ped checks his teeth at every well-child check and would obviously let us know if something was amiss. However, my husband is a dental hygiene FREAK and was super worried that our son had yet to be the dentist. He called our local (very well regarded) pediatric dentist who of course said “your child should see the dentist as soon as they get their first tooth.” Well, my husband immediately… Read more »

Whozat
Guest

Our pediatrician said to take our daughter sometime around 2 – 3. At about 20 months, we noticed that THREE of her top teeth looked suspicious, and made an appointment with a pediatric dentist. At 22 months, she had them capped, under general anesthesia, and had another cavity in the other upper incisor a couple of months later. We would have been TOTALLY screwed with out dental insurance (and, as it is, we’re fighting with the medical insurance about their portion – OR/anesthesia).

May
Guest
May

The dental insurance really depends on the plan and how much it will cost. Get a plan summary from work and check the network. Some plans pay quite a bit towards out of network  stuff (especially cleanings) and others not a cent. How much does the plan cover? A lot of plans have an annual max of $1,000. If it costs you $40 a month it might not be worth it. In my experience the really cool pediatric dentists don’t belong to a network. Check the network discounts to see if they are significant. If you have a good relationship… Read more »

kari Weber
Guest
kari Weber

My son killed his front tooth and required a root canal about 2 weeks after his 4th birthday.  My dentist had told me that if there were no problems I could wait till he was 4 to start him.  So I was waiting until about 2 months after his fourth birthday when my company’s open enrollment period opened to add him.  Yeah.  He was running around the family room and bumped his mouth (not even hard) on the chair and that was it.  A few days later it started turning and we had to go in.  $700 later…. sigh.  Had… Read more »

Bethany
Guest
Bethany

On the dental insurance front, I gotta say: it’s often not worth it unless you’ve got great coverage.
I work for an endodontist (root canal specialist) and handle a lot of the insurance billing. I can say from experience that premiums will add up to way more than the savings you get on the day of service. It hurts more to shell out $1000 all at once for a root canal, but it’s less than spending over $500 a year for insurance that will only cover 50-80% of dental procedures.

Hannah
Guest

Also in Canada, here – although it varies big-time from province to province what is covered and for how long. (Our provincial plan only covers visits up to age 10, and that’s only checkups / cleanings). My dentist says that unless there is an obvious issue that needs looking at (tooth pain, for example) that she doesn’t need to see the kids until they’re three. My older son went to see her the week of his third birthday and had a fantastic time (not a ped dentist, BTW, she’s mine, too) – he loved all the “you’re a big boy… Read more »

Christine
Guest
Christine

I’m somewhat in awe of all the comments above.  I can NOT believe how many people think it is ok to ignore your child’s dental health.  And, even if your kid turned out to not have issues, be assured that there are plenty of children that do. I can not even begin to tell you how many children would come into our general pediatrics clinic when I was in Southern California at less than 1 year with huge number of cavities.  It was truly heart breaking, the teeth were barely coming in and were basically rotting out of the children’s… Read more »

karen
Guest
karen

Here in (sunny, warm!) California, it is the law that when you sign up for employer provided insurance for yourself or your dependents, if you get medical, you also need dental. So we had to sign my daughter up for dental as a newborn along with her medical and she didn’t get teeth until 14 months!

Christy
Guest

If your child’s teeth touch at all then get them to a dentist early! Even with brushing and flossing my oldest has cavities every appt and at her first appt around 3 years old she had multiple cavities and needed a crown!!! None of my other kids have teeth that touched and have never had a cavity, though.

Katie
Guest
Katie

I definitely agree that it’s sad that kids have cavities in their baby teeth by one year old… but, I think there are other issues at play besides whether those kids went to the dentist as a baby. If I feed my little girl healthful foods (she doesn’t even drink juice), carefully brush her teeth daily, and discuss her oral health with her pediatrician and my own dentist… I just don’t see that as “bordering on negligence” or ignoring my child’s dental health.

Nancy
Guest
Nancy

Our girls are 3.5 and have their first appt later this month. I am petrified on their behalf, but am hpeful things will go well to get them off on a good start with dentists. I know they’ll get to pick out a little goodie from a toybox when they’re done, so maybe that will help them. On my dentist’s recommendation, we use electric toothbrushes with them (Dora themed) because any brushing is good, and e-brushes get a little more brushing in per attempt than a standard brush, or so he says. We’ll see how it goes!

Rebecca
Guest

My mother didn’t send me to the dentist for the first time until I was 10 years old. The summer before 5th grade, she suddenly decided to check all my health stuff and took me for a physical, eye exam, and dental exam. I’ve always had perfectly healthy teeth, even when I went through a rebellious phase as a child and refused to brush my teeth for days at a time. I’m pretty meh about the whole idea, honestly.

ksmaybe
Guest
ksmaybe

I took my son when I saw a dark spot on his molar. He was almost 2.5. It was a cavity. We tried temp fillings, finally gave in and had it filled under general a couple months before his 3rd birthday. It needed to be capped and there was another cavity in there too. His enamel is extremely soft according to the dentist. Thankfully, I hadn’t even done the math on putting him on our insurance, we just did it. Between the second opinion, the temporary fillings, frequent visits, and the whole fillings/cap/xrays….it was a good idea to have the… Read more »

Marnie
Guest
Marnie

If you can swing the insurance, I would do it. We were able to add my daughter as soon as she was born for about an extra $10/month. Seemed like a no-brainer. THANK HEAVEN we did it. We didn’t use it the first year, but when she was 15 months old, she fell in a driveway, chipped both front teeth, and pushed them both far enough that they had to drift back down into place. We took her in and the dentist filed the sharp edges. About 3 months later, she fell on the tile floor. Another chip (seriously, this… Read more »

Lindsay
Guest
Lindsay

Insurance is one of those things you have just in case sh*t happens. And with kids, it happens! 🙂 I took my daughter to a pediatric dentist about 6 months after her first tooth came in. Her first visit was great, the second a little rougher, and the third is coming up soon. I’m sort of anal about mouth care because my parents never took us to the dentist regularly growing up and so we only went when there were problems, i.e. absessed tooth and major pain! I don’t want my kids to be afraid to go to the dentist… Read more »

Amanda
Guest
Amanda

I am currently a dental hygiene student and I would highly recommend dental insurance for your children if it is an option and feasable, it is definitely well worth it. Dental procedures can be very expensive and you never know when you might need them. As far as visits are concerned, as soon as your children erupt a tooth it would be good to at least visit a hygienist. Familiarizing children with the dental office when they most likely don’t need many procedures is a good way to teach them not to be afraid and to really value their oral… Read more »

Kirstin
Guest
Kirstin

Our son has been on it insurance since he was born. It really is only a few dollars a month so we don’t really notice it.  He’s three now and we have not gone to a doctor. Not because my dentist said so (which he did) but because I feel it is not necessary. I check his teeth every morning, Once in a while with one of those dental mirrors. We brush extensively twice a day. Hs teeth aren’t even touching anyways.  A friend of mine recently posted about her 2 year old daughter’s first dental visit that she is… Read more »

Deanna R. Jones
Guest
Deanna R. Jones

Wow, I didn’t realize that the guideline to take your kid to a pediatric dentist was bumped up to six months to one year. I’ve always taken my kids to the dentist when they were three or four years old. That would probably be one reason why they all needed braces and fillings. I have another kid who’s four months old. It seems like I should take her to a pediatric dentist in a couple of months. I want this little one to have better teeth than his brothers and sisters, so I’ve better hop to it and find a… Read more »

Kristta
Guest
Kristta

Ive read they restrain them. Honestly we have 2 years old, I was going to make an appointment but after I read that I will not untill he is 3 and understands more. He would freak out to the point where he would be selfdestructive I know that for fact. I believe that visits before 3 are only because of parents feeding kids with too much unhealthy and suggary food and so their teeth starts decaying young already. I cant believe that any parent would even consider give under 5 years old soda. Its not only about carbon and suggar,… Read more »

Polopoly
Guest
Polopoly

My 2y daughter fell and cracked her front tooth open. We hadnt found a dentist prior to that and it was a pain in the neck to find a dentist to see us in an emergency. (They almost always make room for established patients emergency, but may/may not make time same day for new ones) And yes that first visit to check the cracked tooth was a disaster. Granted the cracked tooth probably hurt like the devil. But she screamed, thrashed in my lap and tried to bite the doc – no joke. Fortunately she likes the now (at age… Read more »