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There are plenty of adults who don’t worry about the health risks of skipping trips to the dentist. Even if you’re among them, scheduling your kids first dental appointment should be a top priority. From the teeth cleaning tips to the baby teeth x-ray, so many aspects of a visit to the child dentist are valuable. Plus, many of the preventive ideas from the dentist can save your family from some expensive procedures when your child’s older. Here’s how you can make the most of the first visit and encourage your child to have healthy teeth and gums for a lifetime:

Do babies need the dentist?

Many parents who wouldn’t dream of skipping an infant’s first pediatric checkups don’t give dental services the same priority. That’s a shame because regular appointments with a child dentist offer many advantages. The dental hygienist or pediatric dentist can advise parents on teeth brushing, for example. That sets up your baby to avoid the tooth decay and cavities that can be painful and more expensive to correct when your child’s older.

If you’ve ever struggled with self-image due to yellowed or decaying teeth, this won’t be news to you, but kids with healthy teeth are also bound to be more comfortable socializing and attending school and events. For one thing, they’re able to speak clearly. For another, being able to smile with a full set of gleaming white teeth gives a young child or teenager confidence. Kids who maintain good dental hygiene may also be healthier simply because a strong set of teeth helps them chew easily and without pain. This means they’ll never have to shy away from chewing crunchy, raw foods that are so important for a healthy diet.

When should kids start seeing a dentist?

While newborns don’t need to see a dentist in their first few months, the American Academy of Pediatrics does advise parents to take a child to visit a dental practice by age 1. Parents of young children should schedule a kid’s first dental appointment before that if their child already has one or more teeth. If it feels like rushing to take a baby to the dentist before his first birthday, remember this. Tooth decay tops the list of preventable chronic diseases that afflict children in both the 6-to-11 and 12-to-19 age brackets.

The dental “well baby” appointment

A kid’s first dental appointment is considered a “well baby” event. The dentist will usually talk to parents about preventing tooth decay with at least one of these strategies:

-Brushing young teeth and gums with baby toothpaste.

-Starting to move from drinking liquids from a bottle to consuming them from a cup as a child turns a year old or as she starts getting teeth. This is particularly important to avoid tooth decay from drinking juice from a bottle, but drinking milk and water from a cup as well helps promote the idea.

-Having breastfeeding mothers wind down with on-demand feedings at night once a child has his first tooth. This is also a way of helping to prevent tooth decay.

Keeping calm at the dentist

Here’s another reason to begin taking your child to the dentist early on. If the Well Baby dental visit happens when the child is about 12 months old, she won’t get nervous about it at all. Also, that’s far too early for any sort of dental drills, so she won’t be dreading them, either. But beyond common adult fears about going to the dentist, you should make every effort to help your baby think, “This is just what we do. It’s no big deal.” Even if your one-year-old is shy around strangers, if the parent stays calm, the visit will probably go off without a hitch.

If you have waited until your child’s a toddler, it’s still a good idea to get to the dentist as soon as possible, But you will need to plan a bit more carefully for the event. If you’re a carefree dental patient, you might want to take your two-year-old along on your next checkup so he can see what it’s all about. (It’s a good idea to have a second adult in tow in case he doesn’t like what he sees or randomly gets fussy or tired.) This is a good time to get used to the unusual scents and sometimes jarring noises that adults take for granted at the dentist.

You can also start introducing the ideas that “we value healthy teeth” and “the dentist is our friend” by reading picture books together. ABC Dentist by Harriet Ziefert and illustrated by Liz Murphy is just one of the many books that provide a sneak preview of what goes on at a dentist’s. And like so many milestones in a young child’s life, the scheduling is important. Choose a time when your child will be well-rested and you the parent has enough time to cope if there are long waits.

Brush ’em, mom

Following through afterward is just as critical as scheduling that first kids dental appointment, especially brushing. Obviously, your child can’t brush her own teeth! But it’s far easier than you might think because you don’t use a brush. Instead, you can opt to put a little baby toothpaste on either a clean damp washcloth, a dampened gauze pad or even your own recently scoured fingertip. Then it’s just a matter of wiping the little tooth or teeth and the tip of baby’s tongue. You can even make a game out of this! But don’t slack. To have the best chance of combatting preventable tooth decay, you’ll need to brush after meals and again before bed. If it seems like a bother, remember this: All dental hygiene for young kids will actually save you from far more hassle down the road.