Do you know when a child is supposed to have his or her first dentist visit? If not, you're not alone: Nearly half of the parents who participated in a February 2018 survey admitted to taking their kids to their first dental appointments years after the recommended age.
Dental experts say a child should have his or her first dentist visit around age one, when the baby teeth start to come in. But the University of Michigan survey found that nearly half of 790 parents thought it was fine to wait until a child is two or three years old before scheduling a dentist appointment. Some of the surveyed parents believed that their children can wait until age four or older to visit the dentist for the first time.
Alarmingly, researchers also found that more than half of the parents polled did not receive information about when to take their child to the dentist from a medical professional. Instead, they relied on information from friends, family members, or their own personal experiences.
Considering the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association both recommend a much earlier first dentist visit of age one, it's no surprise that experts are concerned. But as shocking as the poll's results might be, they also serve as an important wake-up call for parents and medical experts alike.
"Our poll finds that when parents get clear guidance from their child's doctor or dentist, they understand the first dental visit should take place at an early age," survey co-director Sarah Clark said in a release. "Without such guidance, some parents turn to family or friends for advice. As recommendations change, they may be hearing outdated information and not getting their kids to the dentist early enough."
A quarter of the parents who delayed dental visits for their kids said their children's teeth were "healthy," but Clark pointed out that it's unlikely parents would be able to spot tooth decay — especially early on.
"Parents may not notice decay until there's discoloration, and by then the problem has likely become significant," she said. "Immediate dental treatment at the first sign of decay can prevent more significant dental problems down the road, which is why having regular dentist visits throughout early childhood is so important."
So if you know any parents of kids whose baby teeth are coming in, it never hurts to give those parents a gentle reminder to get them checked. They'll thank you later on!
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