Supermodel and blogger Chrissy Teigen came under fire recently with her social media followers after posting a photo on Instagram of her 3-year-old daughter Luna’s first trip to the dentist. The so-called crime? Many followers are chiding Teigen for waiting so long to take the toddler to her first checkup – a checkup that many experts (and social media trolls) agree should occur between the ages of 6 months and 1 year. But did Teigen really mess up here? When is the right age to bring a child to the dentist, and how big of a deal is it to wait a little bit longer?
“Well, unfortunately, in this case the trolls are correct,” says Dr. Allison Lesko. “Ideally you should bring your child to their first dental exam by 6 months or whenever their first tooth erupts – whichever comes first.”
Lesko is a family dentist practicing in Fort Collins, Colorado, and says despite the general age requirements, it is up to the individual parents to decide when to bring their child to their first dental appointment.
“The sooner you can get your child in to the dentist, the better,” she says, “but many parents end up waiting until their child is walking and talking.”
Lesko says part of the reason parents should consider bringing their child so early is that it helps eliminate some of the odontophobia, or fear of the dentist, that many kids experience.
“When you know what to expect at the dentist’s office, it can be a lot less scary,” Lesko says.
Lesko says the first appointment is generally well tolerated by most children, as it is generally minimally invasive and easygoing.
“We might count the teeth and practice brushing them with the child,” she says. “It’s all very gentle and child friendly, but it helps the child feel comfortable with going to the dentist and with having someone besides a parent’s hands in their mouth.”
According to Lesko, this is very important because it can set children up for a lifetime of excellent oral health habits.
“When your child isn’t afraid to go to the dentist, it will be easier to get him and her to not only go back to the dentist, but to take care of his or her teeth during the rest of the year,” she says. “Oral health never becomes something scary or optional – it just becomes a way of life for the child, and that’s what we want.”
As for Teigen, Lesko says she wouldn’t worry too much.
“Many kids don’t end up in my chair until around that age, and they’re just fine.”