Really? Well, here is the data. Dental Caries (cavities) is the most prevalent contagious disease in the world. Dental caries causes pain and suffering, and is the most common cause of absence from school. It is also the most common reason for lost time at work for parents. In the grand picture, it is also the most costly disease in the world to treat. 50% of preschool/kindergarten children have cavities.
As an aside, from the 1950s through the 1980s the efforts of our dental profession to educate (and the use of fluorides in drinking water and toothpastes) created an incredible reduction in cavities. We dentists talked jokingly about putting ourselves out of business. Seriously, the American Dental Association put on their business agenda the suggestion that Pediatric Dentistry was in decreasing demand and should be considered for elimination as a recognized specialty. Then came the 1990s and a skyrocketing increase in cavities in children. We now see cavities surpassing the levels we saw in the 1940s and 50s and increasing at an alarming rate. (The cultural shift in adult society that is feeding this problem is a subject for a different article.)
So, that is all disturbing news, but it still doesn’t explain the first dental visit before the first birthday. The reality is, all cavities are 100% preventable and of course you need to know how before the cavities start. Preventing cavities is easy while stopping cavities, and preventing cavities in a mouth of already existing cavities, is immensely more difficult.
And for your pocket book, a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that overall dental costs in the first 5 years were 40% lower for children who started with the dentist before age one.
The first visit at age 3 is just too late. To become a believer, you need only step into a pediatric dental office and see the 3-year-olds having cavities filled. Or accompany me to the hospital operating room where, with general anesthesia, I treat cavities in children that are so extensive I could not accomplish the work with the child awake in the office.
An appropriate age one dental visit will include:
- A visual examination to assess growth and development.
- An oral health risk assessment to determine if the child has high or low risk for cavities.
- A discussion of diet with emphasis on the common mistakes that cause cavities.
- A discussion of habits that affect both oral disease and growth.
- Simple techniques to take the hassle out of cleaning a child’s teeth so you know they are clean in a matter of seconds.
- And ultimately a prevention plan appropriate to the child’s risk of disease.