by Dr. Paul Cameron, D.D.S.
“When should I bring my child for their first dental visit?”
As a full time family dentist, I get asked this question a lot. The answer I give these days is based on recommendations from the Canadian Dental Association, and that is…
“I see infants by age 1 or within 6 months of the eruption of their first tooth”
When I started practicing dentistry 27 years ago, this was not the case. Dentists usually did not see a child until they were 3 to 3 ½ years old, because it was very challenging to get an infant to co-operate well enough at any age earlier.
During my career I started to notice that I was seeing a significant number of 3 year olds that already had lots of cavities, which concerned me. I thought there must be something we can do as dentists to prevent this from happening.
In 2001, I attended a Continuing Education course in Halifax put on by Dr. Ross Anderson, who is the Chief of Pediatric Dentistry at the IWK Hospital. He was starting an initiative to encourage dentists to see infants at an earlier age, by their 1st birthday. I started to follow this philosophy almost right away ever since that course. Dr. Anderson taught me how to do a thorough proper “Knee-to-Knee oral examination” of an infant, and he taught me the important things to discuss with a new parent during that visit.
Knee-to-knee examination performed by Dr. Jennifer MacLellan, Paediatric Dental Specialist, IWK
Here are some of the key points
- The child is facing the parent
- The parent stabilizes the child’s arms and legs
- The dentist stabilizes the child’s head on a comfortable flat surface (e.g. pillow)
- There is constant communication between the child, the parent and the dentist
A complete video of a knee-to-knee oral examination can be viewed here.
Since that time, Dr. Anderson along with a number of other Pediatric Dental Specialists, have made this a National Issue, which the Canadian Dental Association has gotten 100% behind it and is actively promoting to all dentists across Canada.
One of the biggest challenges that I faced at first, was to actually convince the parents that the oral health of their infants was important and how poor oral health could really diminish how a child will grow and learn. As I mentioned earlier, I was often surprised and dismayed when I saw how much dental disease was already present in my 3-year-old patients. So now by seeing an infant at 1 year old, it gives the parent and myself an excellent opportunity to discover any issues very early stage and to have a healthy discussion on proper oral health care, including nutrition and home care.
The greatest reward from these early visits is to see the infant with their new parents get onto the right path to oral health at a young age.
There is a lot of information available to young parents on the Internet about oral health, but almost “way too much information”, and it is difficult to determine what information comes from credible sources. Your dentist should be your “Go-To Expert Resource”, and there is nothing that compares to sitting down one on one with your dental professional to discuss the individual oral health of your child.
Even after practicing for 27 years, I still get very excited to see a new 1-year-old patient on my day’s schedule. To me, I know that is going to be a very productive and rewarding appointment with keen parents who want to do the best for their child, and as well it will be a fun appointment!
Paul Cameron, B.Sc., D.D.S. Antigonish, NS
Dr. Cameron is a full time General dentist. He is a past president of the Nova Scotia Dental Association, and a past Board Member of the Canadian Dental Association’s Board of Directors.