dental checkups for children

6 Reasons Why Dental Checkups for Children Starting at Age 1 Are Crucial

Why is it important to schedule regular dental checkups for children starting at age 1?

As a parent, you want to do everything you can to ensure your child’s health and well-being. One important but often overlooked aspect of caring for your child’s health is establishing a routine of regular dental checkups starting from the time they get their first tooth. 

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll explain why it’s so important to start taking your child to the dentist by their first birthday. 

By starting dental visits early, you can identify problems before they become serious issues, help protect your child’s oral health for life, and even save money in the long run on costly treatments.

Read on to learn more about the 6 reasons every child needs to start seeing the dentist at age one.

Why schedule dental checkups for children?

The American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and other leading health organizations universally recommend children have their first dental checkup by age one, and then continue visiting the dentist regularly thereafter.

Regular dental visits starting at age 1 provide crucial preventive oral health benefits for children:

  • Even though baby teeth eventually fall out, they are important to protect. 
  • Early exams allow dentists to spot problems before they worsen. 
  • They can apply preventive treatments, monitor growth and development, establish a dental home, and educate parents on proper care techniques.
  • Early visits make children comfortable with dental care and save money by preventing the need for invasive and costly treatments later on.

Reason Number 1: To Spot Problems Early

The earlier dental visits start, the better the chance problems can be caught early. By seeing a pediatric dentist around age one, any early problems with baby teeth can be caught and treated before they worsen.

Waiting until your child complains of pain or you notice cavities could mean that tooth decay and other issues have already progressed.

Baby teeth may seem expendable since they will eventually fall out. However, they serve the important purpose of allowing kids to chew, speak properly, and hold space for permanent teeth. 

Cavities and other damage to baby teeth can affect their function, growth, and development, and even impact the alignment and health of adult teeth.

The first visit also allows the dentist to assess for risk of tooth decay, gum disease, bite and oral development issues, and other abnormalities.

Reason number 2:  To Prevent Cavities and Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease. Even with brushing and other home care, kids are susceptible due to their preferences for sugary and starchy foods, immature chewing and brushing abilities, and developing mouth environments.

Seeing the dentist regularly means they can apply preventive sealants, fluoride treatments, and other protective measures. 

The dentist can also spot the early signs of tooth decay and fill minor cavities before they grow into major damage requiring expensive and traumatic treatments like crowns, root canals, or extractions under anesthesia.

Preventing problems like nursing bottle decay in baby teeth allows children to keep and use them longer to aid proper chewing, speech development, and future oral health. 

Stopping decay in permanent teeth also protects them from a lifetime of dental work and replacements.

Reason Number 3: To Monitor Growth and Development 

A primary reason to take babies for early dental visits is for dentists to monitor oral growth and development. They will check that teeth are emerging properly and jaw alignment is normal.

Early assessment allows early detection of issues like delayed eruption or extra teeth that can lead to crowding and bite problems. 

Early detection means early intervention with much less invasive treatments to correct issues and prevent long-term impacts.

Dentists will also want to check for signs of problems like cleft palate, lip ties, and tongue thrusting using dental mirrors.

Intraoral cameras may be used to inspect for plaque, calculus, and gingivitis aiding dentists in examining the teeth and gums.

Oral habits such as thumb-sucking should be addressed to avoid speech impediments and future bite misalignments requiring orthodontics.

Reason Number 4: To Establish a Dental Home

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry promotes the concept of a “dental home” for each child. This means establishing an ongoing relationship with a trusted pediatric dentist to provide a consistent source of oral health care, education, and guidance. 

When kids start dental visits by age one, they get comfortable with the experience early. The dentist and their team also get to know your child’s unique needs while monitoring their oral development at each visit.

Establishing a dental home early on makes children more willing to continue regular dental care throughout their lives and follow home care routines. It also gives you an expert resource for answering your oral health questions as your child grows.

Reason Number 5: For Education and Guidance

As a parent, you likely have many questions about your child’s oral health – when to start brushing, how much toothpaste they need, proper nutrition, oral habits to avoid, dental emergencies, and much more.

Pediatric dentists are a trusted source for all this preventive information so you can best care for your child’s teeth at home. 

They will want to discuss your child’s diet and habits to identify risks and provide personalized guidance on brushing, fluoride use, dentally healthy eating, dealing with trauma, and more.

The earlier you start dental visits, the earlier you can get the specific education and preventive advice you need for protecting your child’s oral health.

Reason Number 6:  To Save on Costly Treatments

Preventive dental visits starting when children are toddlers cost far less than the bill for the major dental work they often require under anesthesia if problems are not detected and treated early.

While a visit at age one may involve only an exam and discussion with parents, it sets up the foundation for regular preventive care. Catching even small problems early can prevent the need for much costlier and more invasive treatments later on. 

Pediatric dental procedures like fillings and crowns, orthodontics, oral surgery, and hospitalization for severe cases all cost significantly more than simple preventive visits. 

Starting dental exams at age one and going regularly allows the best chance to avoid these higher costs and provides maximum bang for your buck.

What to expect at your child’s first dental visit

If the idea of taking your one-year-old to the dentist seems strange, you can rest assured there’s nothing to fear and lots of valuable preventive benefits. 

Here’s a rundown of what you can expect at your child’s introductory dental exam:

  1. The visit will involve you and your child sitting in the dental chair together. The exam can even often be done with your baby on your lap.
  1. The dentist will go over your child’s overall health history and ask you questions about their oral development, feeding, habits, etc. 
  1. The dentist will perform a physical exam of your child’s head, neck, jaw alignment, and oral cavity. 
  1. The exam is visual and sensory, using a mouth mirror and gloves for gentle touching. X-rays and more invasive tools are only used when checking on specific problems at future visits.
  1. The dentist will look to confirm your child’s teeth are emerging on schedule and examine tooth surfaces, gums, bite alignment, oral tissues, and more.
  1. If there are concerning findings, they may recommend supplements like fluoride or reassessments at a follow-up visit. If all looks well, they will advise you on ideal home care routines and schedule the next checkup.
  1. The dentist will also provide preventive education on proper nutrition and feeding, brushing, safe habits, accident prevention, and more for your child’s age and stage.

While they may cry for a moment like other new experiences, such as their first eye exam, most babies tolerate these simple first exams well. The visit provides you the chance to discuss concerns and get professional advice to start your child’s oral health off on the right foot.


The next time your child’s first birthday approaches, consider adding a dental appointment to the celebratory plans. 

As highlighted throughout this article, the benefits of early preventive dental care for protecting your child’s oral health are simply too important to overlook.

Take the first step at age one toward a lifetime of excellent dental health and beautiful smiles by scheduling that inaugural dental visit. 

Your child’s teeth will thank you because their beautiful smile depends on it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why can’t we just start visits at age 3 or older like previous generations?

Pediatric dental recommendations have evolved as research shows earlier preventive visits provide the best outcomes long-term for oral health. Waiting risks allow problems to develop to an extent that requires much more invasive and costly care. Starting at age one optimizes the preventive value.

  1. Don’t baby teeth eventually fall out anyway?

While baby teeth are temporary, they play crucial roles in a child’s development. Decay or damage can negatively impact their speech, nutrition, adult teeth alignment, and more. Keeping baby teeth healthy for as long as possible should be the priority.

  1. My child hates the dentist – isn’t it best to wait until they cooperate better?

Starting dental visits by age one allows your child to get comfortable with the routine early. Waiting can increase fear of the unknown. A familiar pediatric dentist also can use interactive tips and tools to make exams engaging and not scary.

  1. At age one, I can’t even get my child to brush properly yet – so what’s the point?

You as the parent manage the home brushing routine. The dentist provides guidance, answers questions, and supplements your efforts with professional preventive treatments. Their exam can catch problems not visible to you as well. 

  1. My toddler hardly has any teeth – what could a dentist do at this age?

The first dental visit allows the dentist to confirm teeth are entering the mouth appropriately while examining related oral structures. They can also establish a risk assessment and care plan, and educate you on promoting good oral health habits from the start.

  1. Won’t my child likely just need vaccinations and a physical exam at age one?

Your pediatrician focuses on overall health and development. However oral health is better monitored by dental professionals trained to detect even subtle tooth and mouth issues. The two exams complement each other well in fully covering your child’s needs.

  1. If my child appears fine, can early visits wait until they can better cooperate with a dental exam?

Appearances can be deceiving in the mouth, and waiting risks allowing issues to worsen. Starting visits early when problems are minimal means less invasive care. Techniques like having toddlers sit on a parent’s lap help gain their cooperation.

  1. Why can’t I just wait to take my child to the dentist until they have most of their teeth?

Taking your child for their first dental visit by age 1 allows the dentist to assess their oral development from the very start. It establishes their dental home for preventive care and education to protect even emerging teeth from problems. Waiting can allow issues to develop that require more invasive and costly care.

  1. What symptoms would make a dental visit before age 1 necessary?

Consult your pediatric dentist promptly if your baby is exhibiting teething pain beyond normal, injuries or trauma to the mouth or teeth, oral thrush or other abnormalities, or feeding difficulties. While age 1 checkups are ideal for all kids, early intervention is recommended if specific issues are present.

  1. Are X-rays done at age 1 dental visits?

X-rays and other imaging are only used at initial visits if checking on reported problems. Otherwise, dental visits at this young age only involve a visual exam, risk assessment, and guidance for parents. X-rays may be taken at future routine visits to closely monitor developing teeth.

  1. How do I make my toddler cooperate at the dental appointment? 

Bring favorite toys, books, snacks, or electronic devices to entertain them. Holding them on your lap during the exam can provide comfort. Tell them what to expect using kid-friendly terms. Praise their cooperation and let them play with the dentist’s safe tools. Pediatric dentists are also specially trained to gain young children’s cooperation.

  1. How can I make brushing my 1 year old’s teeth easier?

Try brushing while they are reclined or lying down. Make it a two-person game where you brush, then let them try. Use a fingerbrush or toothbrush with a favorite character. Play brushing songs. Offer rewards like stickers. And seek guidance from both your dentist and pediatrician.

  1. What oral habits should I avoid in my 1-year-old?

Do not allow them to fall asleep nursing or with a bottle, sippy cup, or juice. Avoid prolonged pacifier use beyond soothing purposes. Discourage digit or thumb sucking. Reposition tongue thrusting. Limit sugar-containing juices, snacks, and sweets to mealtimes only. The dentist can provide more habit-related advice. 

  1.  When will my child have all their baby teeth come in?

Baby teeth completely erupt around age 3 but can emerge gradually over ages 1-2. The order of emergence varies from child to child. The dentist confirms appropriate eruption order and timing starting at age 1 exams and monitors tooth development at future visits.

  1. What diet is optimal to protect my 1 year old’s new teeth? 

Avoid sugary juices or snacks and limit carbs. Prioritize water over juice. Choose healthy whole foods and limit processed options. Avoid milk or fruit at bedtime. The dentist can provide personalized nutritional counseling to promote strong emerging teeth based on your child’s specific risk factors and needs.

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