By Brenda Bohaty D.D.S., M.S.D., Ph.D. Professor and Chair, Pediatric Dentistry – UMKC School of Dentistry Director, Residency Program in Pediatric Dentistry – Childrens Mercy Hospital
A child’s oral health depends upon regular visits to the dentist. Dental visits that happen rarely or only when there is a perceived problem can jeopardize a child’s overall health and their ability to eat, sleep and function daily.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association agree on the oral health benefits of “age one” dental visits.
Preparing for a child’s first dentist visit
This visit should be scheduled when the child is 12 months of age or no later than 6 months after the first tooth erupts in the mouth. During this examination, the dentist can detect early signs of decay and educate parents and caregivers about proper tooth development, home care and diet.
Methods used to examine a child younger than three years old
Dental exams for children younger than 3 years of age is often done using knee-to-knee positioning whereby the dentist and parent sit knee to knee on chairs that are facing one another (Figure 1).
To position the child for the exam, the parent or caregiver holds the child in their lap with legs straddling the parent’s waist using the “bear hug” positioning. The parent then leans the child’s head back into the lap of the dentist (Figure 2). This position allows the dentist and the parent to get a good look at what is going on inside the child’s mouth. It also helps the dentist to examine the teeth and gums in a way that is comfortable and safe for the child and parent. It isn’t unusual for a child to cry during the examination, much like they may cry for a diaper change or exam with a pediatrician. Crying actually helps the parent and the dentist visualize the teeth and gums better.
After the initial visit, the dentist will determine a checkup schedule appropriate for the child. With each six-month visit, the dentist and parent gradually help the child move to the traditional dental chair to receive the care needed, including tooth cleanings and x-rays.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry provides dental examinations for children under 3 years of age free of charge using the technique described in this article. For more information or to schedule an appointment call 816-235-2145.