While it may seem unnecessary to take a baby to the dentist too early, and it can definitely be a chore to go see one yourself, both have significant advantages.
First, should I take my baby to the dentist right after she gets her first teeth?
Yes, for a few reasons:
- It builds trust between my child and the dentist
- It gives me the opportunity to ask questions and learn about how to care for my child’s teeth directly from our family dentist
- It gives me a head start on preventing tooth decay
How Can a First-Time Dental Visit Do So Much?
1. It Builds Trust Between Your Child and the Dentist
Beginning these routine dental trips this early may mean your child won’t develop a fear, or dental phobia, of the dentist. It could even become a fun experience getting to go. She’ll be more familiar with the staff and won’t immediately associate the dentist with bad experiences like having cavities filled or shots in the mouth. These first few trips, she’ll get to sit in your lap (or the dentist chair), let the dentist look at her teeth, possibly watch a cartoon, get a sticker and head home.
2. It Gives You the Opportunity to Ask Questions and Learn About How to Care for Your Child’s Teeth Directly from Your Family Dentist
When we take our children to the pediatrician, we ask their doctor questions about how to best take care of them. The dentist is the same. Taking your child to the dentist gives you the opportunity to ask questions about helping her brush her teeth, how to comfort her when she’s teething and more.
While there is a lot of information that can be found online about how to care for a child’s teeth (we’ve written a lot of helpful material for parents about caring for kids’ teeth), the dentist is still your best resource. That’s not to say we don’t want you reading our content (it’s still helpful!), but your dentist should be the one you check all of your information with and ask more complex and specific questions about your child.
For instance, at my baby’s first dental visit, I was reminded of the importance of fluoride for my baby’s teeth. Now I’m more aware and conscious about giving her some water throughout the day that has a little bit of fluoride in it. It’s such a simple step but with everything else we, as parents, do to take care of our kids, the simplest things can easily slip our minds if we’re not reminded of them.
3. It Gives You a Head Start on Preventing Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is more common among young children than any other chronic illness. This is the result of a few things:
- Too Much Sugar. There is more sugar in children’s diets at an early age than there used to be. Mutans streptococcus–the harmful bacteria found in the mouth that causes tooth decay—feeds on sugar. The less sugar we give our kids, the better protected their teeth will be.
- Lack of Fluoride. Bottled water has become more common, and it usually doesn’t contain fluoride. Fluoride helps protect our teeth from the harmful bacteria that causes tooth decay.
- The Passage of Germs. Parents are inadvertently passing these germs to kids by using the same spoon as them, sharing a personal toothbrush or letting the baby put their fingers in their parents’ mouth. I’m guilty of the first and the last of these. Don’t let guilt about that overwhelm you though. Starting now, limit how often or if you do this to help protect your kids’ teeth.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Association recommends taking your child to the dentist by his/her first birthday, as mentioned earlier in this post. If you wait until later, tooth decay may be well underway.
These early dental visits give the dentist an opportunity to look at your child’s teeth. They can quickly spot signs of decay before you can. Early detection means they can easily treat the tooth with a safe, protective fluoride varnish or help guide you in taking steps to protect your child’s teeth from further decay.
What Can I Be Doing at Home to Care for My Baby’s Teeth?
As mentioned above, dentist’s can guide you in how to care for your child’s teeth. In general, here are a few things you can be doing at home to help care for your baby’s teeth, starting from birth:
1. Clean your baby’s gums each day before their teeth even erupt.
Use a clean, damp cloth to gently rub over your baby’s gums. Don’t apply too much pressure, and don’t worry about spending too much time doing this. A few passes over the gums will do.
2. Take care of your own teeth.
Make sure you are doing everything you can to prevent the growth of bacteria in your own mouth. Also, don’t share utensils or toothbrushes with your baby or let her put her fingers in your mouth.
3. Limit your baby’s sugar intake.
We probably all know about juice. Juice has a lot of sugar; that’s why my doctor told me to limit how many ounces of juice I give my baby each day. But did you know that breast milk and formula also have a lot of sugar? While you definitely can’t cut down on milk for your baby (whether it’s breastmilk or formula), there are a few steps you can take to help protect your child’s teeth in this scenario:
- Don’t let her sleep feed (and by that I mean, don’t let your baby feed and go to sleep immediately). I know how hard this one is. I’m guilty of this, too! However, I’ve been trying to make a more conscious effort to brush her teeth after feedings to help get off some of the sugar. If I don’t, that sugar will sit on my baby’s teeth throughout the night, causing decay.
- Wean her off the bottle by 14 months. The AAPD recommends this one. Prolonged use of the bottle can increase the risk of damaging teeth. Toddlers are usually drinking on the go. If your toddler has milk in a bottle that she’s walking around with, she is more likely to drink it throughout the day, creating more contact times between the teeth and the sugary content of the milk. The bottle is also a typical nighttime comfort for kids. This makes it hard to brush their teeth before they go to sleep; they’re usually already asleep when they finish drinking their bottle of milk.
- Substitute some of the juice for water (when she’s old enough!). This will limit the amount of sugar your baby is drinking and expose her to fluoride, which will help protect her teeth.
4. Help your child brush and floss their teeth.
There are different methods for helping your child brush and floss their teeth depending on their age (Here are some helpful tips for tooth-brushing at each stage of life). No matter what age your child is, helping them brush their teeth will push bacteria, plaque and sugar off their teeth to prevent tooth decay.
But What About ME Going To The Dentist?
Now that you’ve figured out why to take your baby to the dentist, next up is YOU. You set the example for your children with building good dental habits, plus it’s still key to your overall health.
I’m sure many of you understand the struggle and challenge of making it to your dental appointments. In my search for advice, I found nothing online that offered any suggestions for what we, as new moms, can do to make these appointments rather than just skipping them altogether.
I decided to do some research of my own and write this article. I talked to other moms I know about this very topic and gleaned some helpful information. Here’s what I found.
How Do I Go to the Dentist When I Have a Small Child?
- Find a Dentist with Flexible Hours
- Schedule Appointments Over Holiday Breaks
- Find a Dentist with Childcare
- Go While Your Child Is at Day Care
- Take Your Child with You and Sit Them in Your Lap
- Mother’s Day Out
- Hire a Babysitter
“It is a big issue. What do you do with babies during a dental appointment? Tiny babies are easy enough—although a little stressful—but babies that are crawling or starting to walk… Sometimes there’s not money for a babysitter. Some parents don’t leave their babies because they’re breastfeeding and the baby won’t take a bottle. So what do you do? You just put it off. After having pregnancies that zap your body of calcium… After throwing up acid all over your teeth for months… There just seems to be no easy answer.”
Like many new moms, Anonymous Mom struggled to go to her routine dental appointments. As a result, her dental care was put on hold and the cavities surfaced. This mom now needs a lot of work done on her teeth. She’s finally to a point where she can go to the dentist since her kids are older, but the dental work has piled up.
I can sympathize. Going to the dentist when you have children can be difficult and you won’t always find people who understand.
For instance, how in the world am I supposed to visit a dentist between 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, when I have a 3-month-old baby and my husband works? Do I just ask the dental admin to hold my baby while I get my teeth cleaned?
I recently called the dentist to make an appointment. I have a 20-month-old now and I work from home part-time. Fortunately, my dentist is open on Saturdays and my husband doesn’t work Friday afternoons, but that’s still a small timeframe to go to the dentist, especially when those are likely the dentist’s busiest hours.
The dental assistant was resistant when I said I was only available Friday afternoons or Saturday. She tried to explain their available times: Monday morning, Thursday afternoon, etc., a couple of times like I hadn’t heard them before. I countered by explaining that it just wasn’t possible for me to come at those times unless I held my child in my lap while getting a teeth cleaning, which did not sound like an appealing idea.
She finally conceded that they did have a Saturday opening in 3 weeks. That was fine with me! Granted, I wished it was earlier than that but I would make do.
After polling several moms in my network of friends, there are actually quite a few solutions out there for us all to consider; they just aren’t publicized like they should be.
1. Find a Dentist with Flexible Hours
Switching dentists can be hard, especially if you really like the dentist you have. However, finding a dentist with more flexible hours that will work for your family may mean less pain, time and cost for you.
If you want to prevent cavities from occurring or receive treatment sooner, switching dentists may be the answer. Dental doesn’t just affect your teeth. Poor dental hygiene can affect your overall health, too.
“My husband has a flexible schedule so I would try to schedule my appointment early or at lunch or the last one of the day so that he could watch our son. It can be hard to do though if there are several things that pay period that he is trying to be home for.”
What Kind of Flexible Hours Do Dentists Offer?
Some dentists open early or stay open later on weekdays. Others are even open during select hours on the weekend. Having a dentist with flexible hours could mean you schedule an appointment for early in the morning or late in the evening when your spouse is around to watch the kids. Or maybe you can all go together.
“I usually have to wait for my husband to get home to go to the dentist. Often, we go together and take turns with the kids in the waiting room so we can both get our teeth cleaned.”
2. Schedule Appointments Over Holiday Breaks
A few moms told me they wait to schedule appointments over holiday breaks, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, when they know their spouse will be off work. While these may be busier times for your dentist, you should be okay if you schedule an appointment far enough in advance.
It might also be a nice way to get a teeth cleaning right after chowing down on all that delicious holiday food!
3. Find a Dentist with Childcare
A few of my mom friends told me their dentist actually provides free child care. This was a new concept to me; I didn’t even know dentists were doing this now.
“How I’ve typically gone to the dentist was getting a babysitter. I’ve been lucky to have sitters that didn’t charge too much and were great people. Since moving to North Richland Hills, however, I found a dentist that actually provides childcare for free. So now I don’t even worry about it!”
“When Wilson was little, if I had to go for a short visit or cleaning, I took him because our dentist has a child care area. When I had to go for a root canal, I either went during the day while he was at daycare or found someone to watch him.”
4. Go While Your Child Is at Day Care
Do you work during the day? If your child is in daycare, schedule some time around lunch or early or late in the day to go to the dentist for an appointment while your child still has a place to be. This is what I did for my most recent appointment. While I was a little disappointed to be losing out on hours I would be able to work that day, I was glad to be able to go to the dentist easily and not have to worry about what I would do with my little one.
5. Take Your Child with You and Sit Them in Your Lap
While I cringe at the thought of trying to attempt this with my little one, even when she wasn’t crawling or walking around, there are some moms who have done this successfully. If you have a child that sits still or a baby that is content resting in your arms without excess squirming, you might be able to survive the visit with them there.
I would recommend checking with your dentist though to make sure that won’t be a problem for them!
And if your child is older, they can probably come with you and just wait in the waiting room.
“I’ve never attempted to take the little ones with me but my 9-year-old has had to sit and wait in the waiting room some over the past few years. I’ve used 5-point strollers and snacks at my other doctor appointments.”
6. Mother’s Day Out
Mother’s Day Out is a program put together in many communities by a community center, ministry or church. Some of these programs range from just a few days a week to every day of the week. Some have curriculum included to help get your child ready for school or they just facilitate fun social time for your child with other children his/her age.
It was established to help give moms some time to run errands and go out for the day. It might be an option to help you go to your dental appointments.
“At 18 months, my son started going to Mother’s Day Out so I’ve tried to schedule my dental appointments during that time. I have a lot of support. It’s tempting to not go just because I don’t want to have to schedule someone and make a point of it, but it’s never been a hard thing to do. I’m just lazy.”
7. Hire a Babysitter
This seems like an easy solution, but finding a sitter during the day can be challenging. Fortunately, it’s not impossible.
While many of your regular sitters may work during the day, there may be people in your life you’re not thinking of that could actually be of great help to you:
Most of the friends and family we have nearby work during the day, but we have made this work in the past. For example, my sister-in-law works from home and has a flexible schedule most of the time, so she has been able to watch our little one during the day when we need help. Also, my mother-in-law can sometimes watch our daughter while she’s at work or during her lunch break.
A friend of mine said she has her aunt, who lives nearby, watch her kids.
“I went when the twins were almost 2 months old and thankfully my aunt lives really close and was able to watch them for a little while in between feedings.”
Other moms said they have had to ask a family member to drive a long distance to come watch the kids, but they’ve made it work in the past.
“I’ve had to ask my dad to drive 45 minutes to come watch the little ones so I could go to appointments.”
I have a friend who home-schools her kids. Usually, she is available to watch my little one for a few hours during the day. That has been great for going to the dentist or getting other things done while trusting that my child is in capable hands.
Do you have friends who are stay-at-home moms who wouldn’t mind watching your kid(s) for a few hours while you go to the dentist? Would you consider doing a kid swap?
“I usually do a kid swap with a fellow stay-at-home mom when I do go to the dentist. Sometimes I’ll watch their kids one morning then the other mom will watch my kids one morning. Or I also have a group of friends where we all sort of watch each other’s kids when things come up.”
Another idea would be to find a friend who goes to the same dentist as you do and see if you’re able to schedule your appointments back-to-back to exchange babysitting duties and both get your teeth cleaned!
Do you have friends who are college students or maybe friends’ kids who are college students? Their class schedules can sometimes be more flexible so their off times could be during the day when you need to go to the dentist.
What about a grandma or retired senior you know from church or another community you’re involved in? Could you ask him/her to watch your kid(s) for a little while so you can go to the dentist?
Do you have a good relationship with your neighbors? Is there a neighbor you trust who could watch your child for a little while so you can go to the dentist?
Thinking back to when I was a kid, we had several kids of the same age on our street. We were constantly playing at one another’s houses, which honestly probably gave our moms a nice little break.
Care.com or Another Babysitting Network
Care.com may have a list of babysitters in your area who could be available to watch your child. Have you ever used them before? Share your experience in the comments below! Was it useful? Did you trust the recommendations?
How Important Is My Dental Health, Anyway
Taking care of our dental health is important. It’s really amazing how closely our dental health is linked to our overall health. And no mom wants to feel sick during the week. We don’t get sick days.
Trying to find a solution for your family is easy to put off, but finding something that works is essential. The longer you put off dental care, the costlier, more inconvenient and more expensive dental treatment becomes. And as tempting as it is, skipping routine dental visits shouldn’t be an option.
Hopefully one of the solutions listed above will work for your family. Try it out and see what happens!
“I have only been to the dentist maybe two times since I’ve had kids. I know I need to go but when the kids all need to go to the dentist and doctor, too, my appointments don’t fall too high on the priority list.”
We’ve all been there. There are so many appointments, putting off one of ours seems logical.
Solidarity, sister. We’re all going through it together, but we need to start encouraging and helping each other get the dental care we need.