The surprising benefits of dental exams for toddlers

I’m on a What to Expect discussion forum for parents whose children were born in the same month as my toddler. The topic of visiting the dentist for the first time comes up quite often and there are very mixed feelings and reviews about it. This article is about our experience and the benefits of dental exams for toddlers.

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First of all, let’s talk about some authority organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and the American Dental Association (ADA). Founded in 1947 and comprised of over 10,000 professional members across America, AAPD’s sole purpose is optimal dental health for children.

Both associations recommend that a child visit the dentist for a dental exam after the first tooth erupts but no later than the first birthday.

Before becoming a parent, I didn’t know this. I was honestly surprised that infants should go to the dentist before their first birthday.

So, my daughter’s first two bottom teeth erupted around 4-5 months old and our first visit to the dentist was at 9 months old. At the time of writing this article, we have visited the dentist three times.

I can say with a resounding yes that there are benefits to dental exams for toddlers.

Finding a pediatric dentist

dental exams for toddlers

I was part of a mom’s group at the hospital where I gave birth. Several moms from that group recommended our pediatric dentist. 

Before we made an appointment, I searched his website and read reviews on Google and Yelp. All reviews were excellent.

When choosing a pediatric dentist, definitely consider his or her background, education, length of career, testimonials, and reviews. Talk to other parents in your area and ask for recommendations.

Difference between a pediatric dentist and a regular dentist

A pediatric dentist will have additional specialty training in the field of pediatric dentistry whereas a general dentist will not.

If you absolutely love your general dentist and want your child to be seen by your general dentist, then ask how young they accept patients.

Out of curiosity, I asked my regular dentist at what age they start accepting patients and he said three.

First visit

My daughter first visited the dentist at 9 months old. She had eight teeth at the time. It was fairly easy and straightforward to set up the appointment and fill out all the new patient forms.

The cost of the exam was covered by our family dental health insurance. Adding my daughter to our monthly plan was a couple of dollars a month.

For the first visit, we were at the dental office for a total of 30-40 minutes. Usually, a dental hygienist will clean your child’s teeth and attempt to floss.

Then, the pediatric dentist will conduct a full exam of the teeth, gums, and tongue. The exam also includes a fluoride treatment to prevent tooth decay. 

The dentist will ask about at-home brushing practices and give recommendations. One of the biggest recommendations for an infant is not letting them fall asleep with a bottle or a sippy cup of milk as this could potentially decay teeth.

Then you’re all done! My daughter did cry at this first exam. The experience was new for her and she had strangers examining her mouth, so it was a little frightening for her.

What I learned from this dental exam. I had no idea that I should be flossing my infant’s teeth. No clue whatsoever. So, this dental exam was a learning experience for me as a parent and quite fascinating actually.

Dental goodie bag. We all love a goodie bag from the dentist, right? My infant daughter received her first electric toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and a sticker.

Follow-up dental exams for toddlers

Since the first visit, the regular maintenance routine for dental exams is every six months. My toddler has had two additional dental exams since her first visit.

Second visit

At the second visit, my toddler was able to watch Cocomelon because her dentist’s office is fancy and has flat screens positioned above the exam chairs. 

Although she cried when the dentist started the exam, it went well overall. The dentist found a small piece of nail clipping lodged between two of her teeth. 

I was a little mortified by this. I didn’t think my toddler chewed on her nails, or at least not that I noticed. 

The dentist assured me that he commonly finds pieces of nail clippings in children’s teeth. Really?! I learned something new again.

At each visit, the dentist will ask if you want your toddler to receive a fluoride treatment. To me, it seems beneficial if it’s going to do what it’s supposed to and prevent tooth decay, so I will continue to say yes to fluoride treatments.

Third visit

The third visit was by far the best for my toddler. She settled right into watching Cocomelon and opened her mouth for the hygienist to start cleaning. It was amazing! At the time, she was 21 months.

Before the visit, I prepped her a little bit by letting her know we were going to the dentist and that they would brush and clean her teeth. So, she did just fine.

At this visit, the dentist found calcium deposits on the back of her toddler teeth. He said this is pretty common because toddlers drink a lot of milk and eat yogurt and other foods high in calcium.

He used a scaler, which is a dental tool, to remove it. I saw the small pieces of white flaky-like substance coming off her teeth. Now that was very interesting.

Other than the calcium deposits, my toddler didn’t have any cavities.

Toddler dental care

dental exams for toddlers

The common recommendation for toddler dental care is brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, and eating a healthy diet.

In our household, we include brushing teeth as part of my toddler’s sleep routine, so we tend to brush her teeth before her daily nap and before she goes to sleep for the night.

Since this has become pretty routine for her, she doesn’t put up a fight when we brush her teeth.

We use Burt’s Bees toothpaste, which my daughter really likes. Since she’s still too young to swish water in her mouth and spit it out, I use a very small amount of toothpaste on the brush. The amount I use is even smaller than a pea-sized amount.

Flossing a toddler’s teeth

We’ve had a bit of struggle with flossing our toddler’s teeth. When I’m reaching in her mouth with the floss, she tends to bite down on my fingers.

I don’t think she’s doing it on purpose; it’s just a natural inclination for her. She still does that occasionally when we brush.

When I let the hygienist know, she recommended flossing picks instead of the string floss for my toddler’s teeth. So, we will be trying that soon.

Benefits of dental exams for toddlers

There are many benefits of dental exams for toddlers.

  1. Optimal oral health
  2. Prevention of cavities and tooth decay
  3. Optimal gum health
  4. Removal of calcium deposits
  5. Removal of plaque and tartar
  6. Prevention of other medical issues that can start with bad oral hygiene
  7. Monitoring of proper tooth and jaw development
  8. Oral health education
  9. Builds confidence and self-esteem

Final thoughts on dental exams for toddlers

From my experience in three short visits, I would say that there is a benefit to dental exams for toddlers. As a parent, I feel like I learn a little more from every visit and knowledge is power.

Setting up a toddler with a good dental care routine hopefully creates good dental habits that will last a lifetime. Or maybe that’s just what I tell myself.

In any event, I hope this article inspires you to set up your first dental visit for your toddler because dental exams for toddlers are beneficial.

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