Parents delay child's first visit to the dentist due to lack of guidance from healthcare providers

06 March 2018 Healthcare

In the United States, many parents delay their child’s first visit to the dentist, according to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. This delay is often due to ‘a lack of guidance’ from dental practitioners and other healthcare providers.

"Visiting the dentist at an early age is an essential part of children's healthcare. […] Our poll finds that when parents get clear guidance from their child's doctor or dentist, they understand the first dental visit should take place at an early age. Without such guidance, some parents turn to family or friends for advice. As recommendations change, they may be hearing outdated information and not getting their kids to the dentist early enough."
Sarah Clark, Mott Poll Co-Director 

Limited guidance on dental care is even more prevalent in low-income communities, which is “particularly problematic because low-income children have higher rates of early childhood tooth decay and would benefit from early dental care”, said Clark. Postponing initial trips to the dentist can lead to the development of early childhood caries and create lasting health issues for young children.

Some key findings from the poll include:

  • One in six parents who did not receive advice from a healthcare provider believed children should delay dentist visits until age four or older.
  • Among parents who were not prompted by a doctor or dentist, only 35% believed dentist visits should start when children are a year or younger (the recommended age).
  • Among the 40% of parents whose child has not had a dental visit, common reasons for not going were that the child is not old enough (42%), the child's teeth are healthy (25%), and the child would be scared of the dentist (15%).

All parents should be kept informed on the latest recommendations regarding early childhood dental visits and preventive, at-home oral care. FDI provides specific guidelines to help parents and children prioritize oral health together, with this year’s World Oral Health Day campaign featuring tailor-made messages for children.

Oral care tips for parents and children

Optimal oral health habits begin early. FDI recommends that children visit the dentist by their first birthday, or as soon as their first tooth comes in. These dental visits are especially important for parents, as the dentist will provide guidance on how to avoid early childhood tooth decay, including tips on preventive oral care and healthy eating habits.

Parents can take steps to safeguard their child’s oral health even at the earliest stages of life. FDI encourages parents to fill bottles with only breastmilk, milk, or baby formula and to avoid filling the bottle with sugary drinks, such as fruit juice or soft drinks.

At home, parents play an essential role in caring for their child’s teeth and preventing tooth decay. Even before a child’s first tooth appears, FDI recommends that parents gently clean their child’s mouth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth.

After the first tooth comes in, FDI advises parents to brush their child’s teeth twice a day with a small amount of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice) with an age-appropriate toothbrush. After the age of three, the amount of fluoride can be increased to a pea-sized amount.

FDI urges parents to establish healthy eating habits from an early age by limiting snacks, especially sugary snacks, as well as the intake of fruit juices and soft drinks. Together with regular visits to the dentist, these preventive strategies help to ensure that young children enjoy excellent oral health into adulthood and throughout life.

Tailor-made messages for children on World Oral Health Day

This 20 March on World Oral Health Day (WOHD), the ‘Say Ahh: Think Mouth, Think Health’ campaign features oral health messages specifically for children. An oral health mascot, a smiling, cartoon beaver aptly called ‘Toothie’, inspires children to care for their teeth and develop the link between their oral health and their overall health.

WOHD18 children's poster

While parents remain an indispensable part of preventive care, this year’s WOHD campaign motivates children to play an active role in their own oral care and spread positive messages within their communities. WOHD spreads messages about good oral hygiene practices to adults and children alike and demonstrates the importance of optimal oral health in maintaining general health and well-being.

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