A child’s first teeth play a big role in their development, and it’s important to take care of them from the start.

Why it matters

Even babies can get tooth decay. It’s the most common chronic childhood disease, affecting more children than obesity, asthma, and diabetes, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD).

Baby teeth provide space for permanent teeth and guide them into position, affecting the development of bones and muscles. While the front teeth fall out at about age 6 or 7, the back teeth last until age 10 to 13.

Early prevention

AAPD recommends children start going to the dentist as soon as their first teeth come in, or at least by their first birthday. “The unfortunate truth is that we see children start getting tooth decay before their first birthday,” says Dr. Ronald Hsu, a pediatric dentist participating with both Uniform Dental Plan and DeltaCare. “We want to see the kids as early as possible so we can inform the parents how to best prevent tooth decay and give their babies the best chance to have a cavity-free childhood.”

Dr. Tu Nguyen, a pediatric dentist practicing with Willamette Dental Group, agrees. “This early visit is not only about examination, but also education. It allows us to provide guidance on feeding, teething, and oral hygiene practices tailored to your child’s specific needs. Being proactive helps establish a dental home and allows the dentist to monitor oral development from an early age. Regular dental check-ups from a young age can prevent dental problems in the future.”

Brushing tips

“As soon as your child has teeth, you can begin cleaning them with either an extra soft toothbrush, washcloths, gauze or cotton pads,” Dr. Hsu says. Dr. Hsu recommends having young children lie on their back, with an adult brushing the child’s teeth, every night, with just a smear or grain size of toothpaste. “They cope easier in my dental chair, since they are used to lying back flat, opening their mouth, and holding still,” he explains. “The sooner a consistent routine is established, the easier the child will be able to tolerate and cooperate in a dental office setting.”

First visit

If your toddler hasn’t been to the dentist yet, ask if you can make a “get acquainted” visit so they can be familiar with the dentist office before their first appointment. Check out some children’s books and videos about going to the dentist (you’ll find lots to choose from) and begin talking about the visit well in advance.

Dr. Hsu recommends, “Treat it as nonchalantly as possible and give only broadstroke, generalized information. Another thing I’ve found that helps is the calmness of the parents.” Dr. Hsu says, “If the parents are nervous and anticipating the worst, the appointment will generally match their expectations. On the other hand, if they treat this visit just like their nightly hygiene routine, it tends to go fairly well.”

Find the right dentist

Although all dentists are trained to provide care for children, pediatric dentists receive an extra two-to-three years’ training. “They are skilled in creating a welcoming, non-intimidating environment that helps children feel at ease,” according to Dr. Eugene Skourtes, co-founder and CEO of Willamette Dental Group.

“They understand the unique needs and concerns of children and can offer age-appropriate advice and treatment, making the dental experience more pleasant for your child. Fun and interactive tools, such as dental puppets or toys, are often used to help kids feel at ease," says Dr. Nguyen. “We use positive reinforcement and communication to ease anxiety. Distraction techniques, such as telling stories or showing them the instruments, are also used to make children feel comfortable.”

To find a dentist for your child, check your dental plan’s website.

What’s covered

Visit HCA's website for PEBB or SEBB to see what dental services are covered. In most cases, children are covered the same as adults and preventative visits are 100 percent covered.

Learn more

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website or the America's Pediatric Dentists website for more information about caring for your child’s teeth.

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