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The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child visit the dentist within 6 months after their first tooth shows up, or by their first birthday–whichever comes first. But in a survey of American children’s oral health conducted in 2009, the findings revealed that of kids who had been to the dentist, the average age at the first visit was 2.6 years–much later than the AAPD recommendation.

Here are some tips for caring for those first tiny teeth, and what to expect during that first visit to the dentist.

Primary Teeth Are Important

Baby teeth, also known as primary teeth, usually start erupting when a child is around 6 months old. But since they’re just temporary teeth, they don’t really matter, right? But this common idea is actually a misconception–primary teeth have several important jobs. “Many people don’t understand how important their children’s baby teeth are to lifelong oral health,” says Dr. Kevin Sheu, DDS. “There’s a continuing need for more education to teach practices, such as proper techniques for brushing and flossing, that will ensure lifelong oral health.”

Not only do primary teeth enable children to chew food properly, which promotes good nutrition, they are also important for proper speech development, and they save space in the mouth for the permanent teeth.

What Happens at that First Visit?

The first dentist visit has three main goals:

  1. To build trust by getting your child used to the office environment in a safe, non-threatening way
  2. To familiarize your child with the specific lingo of that office, that is used to reduce the fear associated with certain objects–such as “tooth counter” for the probe or taking “pictures” instead of X-rays
  3. To allow the dentist to assess the health of the teeth and locate any problem areas


A lot of what happens at the first visit will largely depend on what your child is comfortable with, which often correlates somewhat with their age. Nervous children are given a “happy visit,” in which minimal work is done on the teeth, and the primary aim is to make the dentist’s office a fun, non-threatening space.

But if your child is okay with it, the dentist will check their teeth, gums, and bite; make sure there are no cavities or areas of decay; and check for frenulum problems or other issues that may affect the long-term oral health. Then the dentist will discuss with you their recommendations for continued oral hygiene going forward and answer any questions you might have.

Contact us today for information about what pediatric dentistry looks like at South Temple Dental.