You may have heard that dental organizations recommend parents schedule their child’s first appointment before the first birthday. These organizations believe that early intervention will ensure your child will have a better dental future. And while prevention designed to curb disease can be particularly beneficial, real prevention strategies are based on scientific evidence.
Scientific evidence appears to be the motivation for a recent study, published in JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers set out to see if available data could support early intervention. Belief, it turns out, is very different than fact.
In the retrospective cohort study among 19,658 children who were continuously enrolled in Medicaid from birth, 3,658 of the children received early preventative dental care. These children were compared and matched with children who did not receive early preventative dental care. Researchers noted,
Compared with matched children without early preventive dental care, children with dentist-delivered preventive dental care more frequently had a subsequent caries-related treatment, higher rate of visits per child, per year and greater dental expenditures.
According to researchers, there is no evidence that preventive dental care in children under the age of 1-year helps to reduce caries-related visits.
In fact, children who saw dentists at an earlier however, dentist-delivered care was associated with increased caries-related use and expenditures.
While it’s important to note that preventative strategies are vital to curbing many diseases, “this study highlights the need for continued careful evaluation of the evidence basis for clinical recommendations,” said Justin Blackburn, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy at UAB.
But while this study suggests there is limited evidence to support early preventative dental care, it didn’t address the issue very broadly. It didn’t consider benefits like improved quality of life, nor more active interventions such as improved diet and home hygiene.
Regardless, for parents of young children, the outcome of this study challenges the first dental visit age recommendation dental organizations suggest, including the
- American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD):“In order to prevent dental problems, your child should see a pediatric dentist when the first tooth appears, or no later than his/her first birthday.”
- American Dental Association (ADA): “Protect your child’s teeth by starting dental checkups early. The American Dental Association and the Academy of Pediatric Dentistry say the first dental visit should occur within six months after the baby’s first tooth appears, but no later than the child’s first birthday.”
Even insurance companies cite these dental organizations, bestowing them with “expert” status. Delta Dental, for instance, cites the AAPD:
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child go to the dentist by age 1 or within six months after the first tooth erupts.
Guardian Life likewise refers to “experts”:
Most experts agree that children should be seen by the dentist by the time they reach their first birthday. If your child gets their first tooth a bit early, make sure you schedule that first visit within six months of the tooth coming in.
If the idea of an infant at the dentist seems surprising, you’re not alone. Many parents are shocked that the recommended age for a first visit is no later than the first birthday. However, this visit can help your child avoid dental issues in the coming years.
Of course, we don’t have to tell you that each child is unique. For most children under the age of 3, the expectation for them to be able to sit, hold their mouth open, and trust someone they don’t know to look in their mouth can be stressful and scary. Knowing this, we believe the most important thing a parent, and a dentist, can do is to help a child to develop a feeling of safety and trust in a dental setting.
As a parent you are looking for someone who takes the lead from your child; a child’s feelings should never be disregarded. You are looking for someone who lets you stay in the treatment room and ensure the treatment provided to your child is treatment you have agreed to proceed with. You also want to make sure treatment is never provided against a child’s will.
The truth is how your child’s feelings are handled in a dental office today, is a critical factor in their future of long-term good dental health. It’s important for you as a parent to not only understand, and honor the vibes your child is giving, but to respect it. Because once dental fear roots in a child, it is not easily overcome.
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