Expert Contribution

Your Child’s First Dental Visit


According to the American Dental Association, the recommended time for a child’s first dental visit is within six months of when the first tooth comes in, but no later than the first birthday. 


To start a child’s positive relationship with their dentist, our very young patients initially accompany a parent to a dental hygiene visit, sitting on the lap of another supervising adult. They simply watch mom or dad have their teeth cleaned. Children learn by observation. When ready, the child can sit on the parent’s lap and ride up and down in the dental chair, perhaps letting the dentist take a quick look at their smile. Again, when the child is ready, the doctor can “count their teeth” (a.k.a, do an exam) to see that oral development is normal and check for any decay. Regular visits can soon include a professional cleaning and, eventually, x-rays to check the development of teeth and the health of the roots. The key is to make each experience a positive one. 


An important way to help develop good dental and facial growth is to breastfeed, or at least to use a “slow-flow” nipple for bottle feeding that most closely mimics the delivery mechanism of the human breast. As much as possible, avoid bottles, pacifiers, “sippy cups,” and even mushy baby food, which can prevent proper jaw, tongue, and facial muscle development. Look up “baby-led weaning” to learn how transitioning from breastfeeding directly to solid foods is optimal and highly recommended. 

If the baby has trouble latching on during breastfeeding, one problem to look for is a tongue tie, where a string of tissue connects the tongue or cheek to the lower jaw. Too tight a connection means the baby cannot make a “seal” around the nipple to ensure getting enough to eat. A tongue-tie like this is a fixable problem, especially at this young age. Ask us for a referral to a knowledgeable specialist; many pediatricians and lactation consultants are still learning how significant a tongue-tie can be. 


As soon as the first tooth appears, start brushing twice daily to remove cavity-causing plaque. Use a soft toothbrush and limit toothpaste to the size of a grain of rice for children ages 0-3, and the size of a pea for those ages 3 and over. Fluoride is a great help to prevent cavities. Our tap water here in Walnut Creek is fluoridated, but for those who rely more on bottled water, which does not have fluoride, it is even more important to protect the teeth by using fluoridated toothpaste or rinses. Please note that fluoride is not meant to be consumed, so encourage your child to spit the toothpaste out after brushing rather than swallowing it! 

As parents, we naturally want to do what is best for our children; start them off right by developing good dental habits right from the beginning, so they can enjoy a healthy smile for a lifetime!

By Brian J. Hockel, DDS, Life Dental & Orthodontics, Resident since 1964 

About The Author

Brian J. Hockel, DDS
Life Dental & Orthodontics

Dr. Brian Hockel graduated from UCSF School of Dentistry in 1989 and has practiced dentistry for over 30 years next door to the Ygnacio Valley Library on Oak Grove Road. The recipient of numerous awards, Dr. Hockel is active in several professional organizations. He combines his cosmetic, orthodontic, airway treatment and gnathology skills to bring about great changes in people’s smiles and health. 

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