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May 9th, 2011
07:44 AM ET

When should my baby see a dentist?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Asked by Samantha from San Diego, California

Q: My baby just turned 1 year old and has eight teeth. When does he need to start seeing a dentist?

Expert answer

One easy rule of thumb is "first visit by first birthday." The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that the first dental visit take place when the first tooth appears, usually between 6 months and 1 year of age.

There has been some disagreement about the first dental visit, however, so you may hear recommendations ranging from going within 6 months of the first tooth's eruption to waiting until past 3 years of age.

Delaying the visit is not advised since according to the CDC, 20% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 years already have at least one untreated cavity.

Early visits with a pediatric dentist can help catch problems before they progress. The dentist can also teach parents how best to take care of their child's teeth and build good habits.

According to Parvathi Pokala, DDS, the first dental visit at age 1 is very simple and includes an examination for normal growth and development, checking for cavities, and lots of education for the family on cavity prevention.

This includes information about diet and nutrition, tooth brushing, use of fluoridated toothpaste, and preventing bacteria that cause cavities passing from parent to child. Fluoride varnish may be applied to the teeth as it is very good at preventing cavities. Often X-rays and cleaning may be delayed until a future visit.

It's important to start seeing a dentist even for the primary, or baby, teeth because these teeth are holding a space for the permanent ones. Problems with the baby teeth can affect feeding and speech. Cavities in baby teeth can also sometimes affect the development of the permanent teeth.

If in doubt, I encourage patients to see a dentist sooner rather than later. If you have dental insurance for your child, you can check with the plan's web site for a pediatric dentist in your area.

Your child's pediatrician may also be able to recommend one.

Follow Dr. Shu on Twitter and on her blog, ParentingSense.


soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. John

    Yea sure - good luck checking teeth on a 1 year old. Just keep exposing the kid to trauma for no really good reason - let's traumatize all babies now just because 0.5% of the time there is a problem. Since this article is coming from a doctor, the earlier they come to you, the more money you make - obviously biased advice.

    May 9, 2011 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cam

      well founded and thought out argument

      May 9, 2011 at 11:36 | Report abuse |
    • Olga Dolghier

      at John. I'm Dr. Olga Dolghier, a Board Certified Pediatric Dentist, working at – Palm Valley Pediatric Dentistry. http://www.palmvalleypediatricdentistry.com/ I had parents that would come in when the child is younger than 2 years of age, that is in pain, underweight (b/c can't eat), and the only option is to do the IV Sedation in the office. Many parents are frustrated that nobody told them when is the first time that the child need to see the dentist, which is around their first b-day. Every parent need to be aware that although baby teeth are temporary, they are vital for overall health of the child, and can have significant impact on child's self image, and future development.

      December 29, 2013 at 16:36 | Report abuse |
  2. Lolita

    Women need to communicate what they want....why are they so afraid to tell their partner what they want/need? Men have never had a problem expressing what they want and we should do the same......if your man doesn't listen or isn't interested...there are plenty out there who will......move on.

    May 9, 2011 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • drc239

      Wow ... Is Lolita commenting on the wrong article or what?

      May 9, 2011 at 13:43 | Report abuse |
    • Timothy C

      @Lolita: Agreed. Women need to let their partners know if they want their kid to go to the dentist or not. As a man, I know that I never have a problem expressing to my wife that my daughter needs to go to get her teeth checked. Period. End of story.

      I'm not sure why women are afraid to ask their partner about this–maybe they're as scared of going to the dentist as the child?

      May 10, 2011 at 14:40 | Report abuse |
  3. becca

    i agree with the advice about taking children to the dentist early on like before their first year. when you wait until there's pain or a problem, then something small has often turned into a bigger issue. then it's the child that suffers through a huge procedure that may have been prevented with early checkups and good oral care.

    May 9, 2011 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. panamai

    We take our daughter to a pediatric dentist. We started when she was 13 months old and she does just fine. All they do is look at and clean her teeth. I don't understand where the trauma is there. The real trauma occurs when they get cavities and have to go under the drill. I'm trying to prevent that. So far, no cavities and she is about to turn 3. Our insurance pays 100% for her to go 2x a year. It seems more like 20% or more of the time, there is a problem. That's the percentage of kids 2-5 with UNTREATED cavities. How many more have treated ones? Also, I think the earlier they go, the less traumatizing it is. They get used to it early, and it becomes a part of life. I just don't see what the problem is. Everyone takes their one year olds to the doctor, I presume, yes? That costs a lot more, and getting vaccines is a lot more traumatizing!

    May 9, 2011 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Timothy C

      Agreed. As a father, my daughter hasn't shown any "trauma" as a result of going to the dentist prior to one year of age. It did help a lot for peace of mind since she had developed what appeared to be blackened teeth as a result of too much iron in the formula we used to supplement breast milk. The dentist scrubbed off the black layer and her teeth were fine. Had we not gone, my wife and I would have been left worrying whether the blackened teeth was actually decay, which it wasn't fortunately. Better to be safe and get checked than face a larger and more expensive problem down the road.

      May 10, 2011 at 14:45 | Report abuse |
  5. Baby Teeth Count

    As a practicing pediatric dentist who has extracted the decayed front 4 maxillary teeth of 1 year old patients more times than I care to admit, or even worse, all 20 grossly decayed primary teeth of a two and a half year old, I would encourage all parents to take their children to a pediatric dentist by age one. Even if there is no abnormality upon examination, the parental education and child's early exposure to the dentist helps to develop a lifetime of good habits. The real trauma comes from untreated decay that can lead to abscess and spread of infection, or a child who just assumes that it is normal for his mouth to hurt and becomes accustomed to living with daily pain.

    May 9, 2011 at 12:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Katie

    Yeah, my dentist saw my kids at the age of three, let them play on the cool chair-bed that rode up and down, let them wear cool sunglasses and smile for them, handed them a toothbrush, and then proceded to lecture ME about their oral hygiene. $80 please. After seeing my kids every six months for several years, during which time they had no cavities but did have xrays, cleanings, consults with an orthodontist, and sealants applied, I was again lectured about their oral hygiene and how I needed to put my kids in a "gentle headlock" and brush their teeth for them. At no time during those years were my children ever told directly by the dentist or hygienist how important it was for THEM to keep their teeth clean. They were always present when I was informed it was my responsibility and when we got home, they liked to repeat that to me. There was NO WAY I was going to put my eleven year old in a "gentle head lock" and brush his teeth. I wouldn't do that to a four year year old, but I did try to coach them through brushing their own teeth, something the dentist and his hygienist never thought to do.

    May 9, 2011 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Bethany

    As a mom of two special needs children, I put off taking my kids to the dentist until they started kindergarten. This was a big mistake NOT because their teeth were decayed, no juice and no pop and no candy thus no cavities thank goodness, but because they needed to be acclimated to what happens at the dentist. I have a wonderful pediatric dentist who has now been working with the kids for 3 years and they are getting better with each visit - my oldest just had his checkup and was able to handle it just fine and we actually got x-rays.

    May 9, 2011 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. dan

    There are so many parents who let their kids sleep on fruit juice, eat as much candy and soda as they want and then never bother to brush teeth. Our 3 kids under 3 love brushing their teeth. They also know that Mom/Dad get to help them finish. Not that big of a deal, no cavities or decay. As far the dentist is concerned they go because it gets them in the habit and comfortable with going to the dentist 2X a year. Most pediatric dentist visits just include a quick look and meant to be enjoyable for the child.

    It is parents that cause children's tooth decay and cavities, they are the ones that need to be educated.

    May 9, 2011 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Lauren

    I definitely advocate taking them to the dentist early. My son didn't see a dentist until 4 years old. Going earlier would have saved all of us a lot of trouble. After repeated attempts by an incredible pediatric dentist to fill his cavities, he ended up requiring general anesthesia to remedy 9 cavities...2 of which were root canals plus caps. My son brushed his teeth daily, rarely had candy or juice, but going to the dentist at an earlier age would have uncovered some habits which significantly contributed to his tooth decay.

    May 9, 2011 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Glen

    My wife and I have our dentist appointments about 3 months apart (it just worked out that way). We took our (5 yr apart) kids with us to every appointment. They sat in strollers and watched us 'get our teeth counted'. Once they were verbal, after our appointment, we would put them into the chair and our Dentist would count their teeth. Never any stress at all. "Show me your smile." "Stick out your tongue." "How many teeth do you have?" Neither kid has any fear of the Dentist at all – Heck it's an opportunity to get out of school early.

    I guess it requires a friendly Dentist.

    May 9, 2011 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. svann

    When should parents begin brushing baby's teeth? Probably should use something milder than normal toothpaste, or maybe no toothpaste at all. Brush and water works almost just as good.

    May 9, 2011 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jenny

      I’m a single mom and I have 2 kids who both needed dental braces. I make just enough to not qualify Medicaid services so I can’t get free Treatment on teeth's beauty. I had to pay over $4800 so that my child can have braces and a beautiful smile. . .She was very scared and timid at school. I couldn’t find anyone in Los Angeles who would do the braces at a normal price so I had to launch find it with free services likehttp://www.healthsouk.com (HealthSouk- the dental discount plan or discounted dentistry) and http://www.1800dentist.com (800 dentist) The first one was free and the second apparently charges the dentist but not me.healthsouk
      - Jenny Thomas

      December 26, 2011 at 05:21 | Report abuse |
  12. Patrick

    This is a major push by the dental industry to increase their revenue stream, they are trying to tap into a new market. Do you really think they are recommending services that line their pockets because they are concerned for the well being of our children? If a parent teaches and supervises a child to brush their teeth morning and night, there is no reason an infant or toddler needs to go to the dentist. Parents also need to feed their children proper food and snacks. These are temporary teeth and will fall out anyway!!! With proper brushing and diet, 99% of the children will have absolutely no issues.

    May 9, 2011 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. mother of four

    No insurance here. So the dentist is who we go see when there is a problem. However–we also knew how to prevent those problems. The cost of going to the dentist has risen prohibitively in the last ten years and this makes maintenance visits a luxury we can't afford. None of my boys had a cavity one until they began to attend public high school and stopped being as careful about their diets and their teeth. Two of the four have have had one cavity each (the other two are still cavity free). It was a wake up call for them.

    Things you can do to avoid cavities–breast feed for the first year–I can't recommend that one highly enough. (NO! You do not have to wake them up to brush their teeth if they fall asleep nursing–unlike formula). No juice in bottles. Wait until they are old enough to sit up and hold a cup for that one. No sweet tea, no sodas until they are a lot older–if you feel they'll be deprived without it. High calcium diet–preferably yogurt and cheese. Minimized processed foods–maximize fruits and vegetables. Brush their teeth until they are old enough to do it right themselves (Somewhere between four and five–depends on the kid)–supervise until you're sure they understand why. Teach them to floss and wash their mouths out after eating. Say no to fluoride drops–they are a scam and not especially safe.

    In our case, their father has terrible teeth (thanks to genetics and poor nutrition as a child). So he's been especially concerned about the boys getting the message. Me? I'm forty-five and I've had one cavity in my entire life, thanks to parents who preached preventative dental care and diet management.

    May 9, 2011 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. KWS

    Babies should see dentists whenever there's one in front of them. Otherwise they probably need an eye doctor.

    May 9, 2011 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Bob The Builder

    Babies should see a dentist whenever they no longer fit in the microwave.

    May 10, 2011 at 00:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Baby Teeth are Important!

    Thank you so much for informing the public about the age one dental visit. As a pediatric dentist, I too, have treated numerous children who have had multiple cavities under the age of three. My youngest patient with tooth decay was only eight months old. Let us never forget Deamonte Driver, the sweet young man who died in 2007 of a baby tooth abscess. Thank goodness this was a rare case, but it was definitely an eye opener. I just wish more of our pediatrician colleagues were familiar with and recommended the age one dental visit to their patients. Prevention is the key!

    May 16, 2011 at 13:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Cindi

    I get so confused whether or not to take my kid to the dentist when she's one or not. I decided to wait. But now's she's over 2! Her brother, who is 5, does fine at the dentist. I just keep thinking that she's not going to do very well and be crying a lot. So, I thought maybe at age 3, she would be better. Looks like I missed the 'first visit by first birthday' rule of thumb. Parenting is about lessons learned :). Thanks for the tips! This Mom's Guide has really helped me find great ideas on how to care for my kids teeth better! http://www.1dental.com/moms-guide/

    May 25, 2011 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. D3

    going to a pedodontist helps the kid get used to the routine of a dental visit. ideally, you go when there's teeth, around 6 month of age. but honestly in my opinion, it would vary from person to person as we are not all made the same with the same caries risk. therefore, parents can use their best judgement to bring their kids in from 6m to probably around 1.5 years of age. there's many factor to consider. i have seen kids as young as 3 years old with some bombed out teeth, which means the kid would mostly have been better off if she/he came in sooner. other reason to bring them in is to see how the teeth are erupting so that parents can be informed if their kid might need ortho in the future. there was one case where this 17 year old was missing a first premolar for a long time and parents didnt know why. the kid came in because the parents thought it was about time he go get his first check up and after taking the panoramic xray, we discovered that the tooth was there, but forming the in the WRONG direction going up the maxillary sinus! things are always unexpected and even if you suspect your kid to be fine, at least pay a visit to make sure things are ok.

    going early helps the kid get used to dental visits.

    starting kids early on nitrous is not a great way to go because the kid might grow dependent on it psychologically. and getting that thing setup is kind of a waste of time and doesn't really help generate much income to make a difference. so please, try to encourage the kids to get work done without nitrous if there's a chance. it would play out better for both the dentist and the patient in the long term.

    May 26, 2011 at 01:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Orthodontist in armadale

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    December 6, 2011 at 00:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Anthony Sanchez DDS

    I agree having your child come in once they have a tooth is the best bet. If you are busy and haven't gotten around to it that is generally fine, because most kids do not have teeth problems as early as sixth month old. That said I have seen some cases of terrible tooth decay in toddlers which can be attributed almost in full to juices that contain lots of sugar. Its okay to give you child juice sometimes but I recommend watering it down so it is less sweet, this will help keep their teeth healthy.

    February 16, 2012 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Marielaina Perrone DDS

    Yes, I agree having a child be seen around the first tooth eruption. In my office we just call it a "well check". It really is more for educational purposes for the parents. To prepare them for the teeth arriving, giving them a shcedule of eruption to follow and call if there are any concerns. As well as a review of hygiene for the little ones.
    http://www.drperrone.com

    May 27, 2012 at 00:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jaxw Kondosb

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    July 31, 2012 at 00:40 | Report abuse | Reply

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