Written by: Steven Brown, DMD
When TeethFirst! reached out to me to write this post, I responded with an enthusiastic “yes!” because I feel very deeply invested in improving children’s oral health. In fact, I support the overall goal of encouraging age one dental visits because as an oral surgeon, I’ve seen too many youngsters coming to me in need of surgery for disease that could have been prevented if a dentist had only been involved in the child’s care sooner. This growing number of young patients has prompted me to reach out to you now.
For the past several years, the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry have been recommending that all children see a dentist by age one. Many dentists are accustomed to seeing children at age three, so agreeing to see even younger children has been a professional shift for them and their teams. I started out working in the military and did not treat many children at first either. For many dentists, treating young children is a huge change from what we learned in dental school, and that can be intimidating since seeing little ones means a different clinical and office experience.
However, when I moved to community practice and started seeing very young children who needed surgery due to advanced decay, I realized that my practice needed to change to meet the need. Although it may seem like it’s a major adjustment, many dentists who have chosen to open their practice to toddlers report that once they get over the initial trepidation, they find that caring for a very young child’s teeth is not a difficult challenge—it’s just different. In fact, many find that it makes their job even easier since they’ve been there from the very beginning to provide anticipatory guidance and support to parents and caregivers.
I encourage my colleagues to consider opening your general dentistry practice to children around age one. As I see it, it can have many benefits. Not only would you be opening up to a broader range of patients, you may also acquire additional members of that child’s family, which would help your practice grow. The children and their families get to know you and feel more comfortable for the visit. Many very young children are available for appointments in the middle of the day, unlike school-aged children, which can help you fill your calendar. And aside from the practical benefits you stand to gain for your practice, perhaps the most important thing is that you’ll become an actively participating member of a child’s health care team early on.
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, tooth decay is the single most common childhood disease. It’s five times more common than asthma, four times more common than early-childhood obesity, and twenty times more common than diabetes. Many children suffer needlessly from tooth decay and we, as professionals, can help change all that.
As dentists, you know the value of prevention. I urge you to consider the idea of connecting with the families of young children earlier on in a child’s life. Regular dental visits for very young children combined with good home care will prevent problems now and later, hopefully leaving me (an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon!) to deal only with problems that could not have been prevented. I think we can all agree that if this is the case - everyone wins!