Parents Are Waiting Too Long For Their Child's First Dental Visit

by Valerie Williams
Image via Image Source/Getty Images

Kids need to see a dentist earlier than parents might think

Kids need so much maintaining, y’all. As a mom who writes a lot about momming, I like to think I’m up on the right car seats, foods, clothing, vaccines, whatever — but sometimes, I’m reminded that there’s still plenty I don’t know.

Like the right age to get your kiddo to their first dentist visit.

A recent survey from the University of Michigan found that nearly half of 790 parents thought it was cool to wait until toddler age, around two or three years old, to schedule that first dental visit. Some even thought four or older was OK. As it turns out, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association suggest taking your little one for their first checkup by age one.


The research also found that more than half the parents surveyed never received information from a medial professional about the appropriate age for a first dentist visit. Those parents instead got their ideas on proper baby dental health from friends, family, or drew on their own personal experiences with teeth cleanings.

The survey’s co-director Sarah Clark said in a press release, “Our poll finds that when parents get clear guidance from their child’s doctor or dentist, they understand the first dental visit should take place at an early age. Without such guidance, some parents turn to family or friends for advice. As recommendations change, they may be hearing outdated information and not getting their kids to the dentist early enough.”

So basically, parents are ill-informed about the right time to take a child to the dentist. I’ll buy that. I was a pretty obsessive first-time mom and I have no recollection of my children’s (very good) pediatrician making a point of telling me when to get my babes in to have their teeth checked. Sadly, I’m old and tired, so I can’t remember the exact age my kids had their initial checkups, but I know it wasn’t age one. Probably more like three going on four.

Again, whoops.

Since a quarter of the parents surveyed said their kids’ teeth looked “healthy,” Clark had to point out that to the untrained eye, signs of decay might not be obvious. “Parents may not notice decay until there’s discoloration, and by then the problem has likely become significant,” she said. “Immediate dental treatment at the first sign of decay can prevent more significant dental problems down the road, which is why having regular dentist visits throughout early childhood is so important.”

The survey notes that the implications of skipping out on proper oral hygiene early in life are mostly tied to educating parents and kids about good brushing habits, the importance of limiting sugary drinks, and teaching parents to avoid putting kids to bed with a bottle, since that can cause damage.

Baby teeth don’t last forever, but no parent wants to see their preschooler getting teeth drilled, and kids need to know the right way to care for their teeth so they can keep doing the right thing when the permanent ones come in. So make that appointment and get ahead of any potential issues — before it’s too late.