Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Your child's first dental visit

Kristen Griffiths

Kristen Griffiths, Alberta Health Services

April is National Oral Health Month and it is a great opportunity for parents to talk to their children about the importance of good oral health

The mouth should be thought of as the “gateway” to the rest of the body, because what goes on in the mouth can affect the other body systems as well. Poor oral health has been linked to several health conditions including diabetes, respiratory disease, ear and sinus infections and cardiovascular disease. Unhealthy teeth and gums can also affect self esteem, sociability, speech and language development, enjoyment of food and quality of life. Dental disease and cavities in children has been linked to loss of sleep and appetite, delayed growth, poor learning and behaviour problems. The Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) in 2009 estimated 2.26 million school-days are lost annually due to dental visits and dental sick-days.

Dental cavities and gum disease are preventable, treatable and, if caught early, they can be reversible. That is why in 2005 the Canadian Dental Association started recommending that children have their first dental visit six months after the first tooth is visible or by the age of one . The purpose of these first visits is to establish a healthy dental relationship early on.

Many dental fears in adults stem from a bad childhood experience. If a positive rapport is built with a dental professional at a young age, the chance of them developing this fear decreases. Studies have also shown that early interventions such as education surrounding diet and daily mouth care, assessment and detection of cavities, developing a personalized preventative strategy and discussing topical fluoride use can significantly decrease a child’s risk of developing Early Childhood Caries (ECC).

Early dental care and positive dental rapport also improves the success rate for fillings and restorative work being done in community-based dental offices, which reduces the need for day surgeries under general anesthesia. A recent study done by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) showed that the treatment of dental cavities constituted 31per cent of all day surgeries for children age one to younger than five, making it the number one reason for children of this age group to undergo day surgery.

There are other precautions parents can take at home:
  • provide children with tooth friendly snacks like apples, cheese and fresh vegetables 
  • monitor sugar intake, especially between meals 
  • limit the amount of fruit juice consumed and offer water between meals 
  • avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle 
  • wean them to an open-faced cup by 12-14 months 
  • lift your child’s top and bottom lip at least once a month to check along the gum line for brown, black, yellow or white chalky spots that can often be signs of early cavities 
  • brush your children’s teeth at least twice a day for two minutes and floss wherever the teeth touch 

It also important for the maintenance of good oral health to have regular dental check-ups and cleanings. Many dental offices, independent dental hygiene clinics and community health settings offer free “happy visits” for children three years old and younger.

Alberta Health Services offers a free Fluoride Protection for Toddlers program at health units across the province for eligible children aged 12-35 months. Call your local Public Health office and/or private clinic to see what programs they have to offer.

Kristen Griffiths is a dental hygienist with Alberta Health Services’ Population Health Promotion and can be reached at 403-388-6776 or email

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