The British Society of Paediatric Dentistry are promoting their campaign in the UK to have all babies checked in the dental surgery in their first year. In the UK only 20% of babies have seen a dentist by the age of one, despite advice to parents that they should be seen at around six months old. The situation in Ireland is even more stark, with the average age of the first dental appointment being 8 years. By this point several of the baby teeth have been lost and any problems in the mouth have likely deteriorated, problems that might have been spotted and dealt with much more easily.
There are several barriers to the dental visit in the Irish system that cause problems relative to the UK system. In the UK all children would be entitled to free treatment under the NHS, whereas in Ireland there can be a fee associated with treatment of children until they are seen by the school dentist. Most dentists I know would not charge for the dental examination of an infant, or the ten minute chat that we can have at the end of your appointment regarding their oral hygiene and the methods you can use for helping to improve your brushing of their teeth.
The other major barrier in the Irish system is that oral health education is often poor in comparison with the detail that is provided during pregnancy and pre-natal classes in the UK. It is for this reason that at Expressions during the later stages of pregnancy, we will take the time to explain all of the relevant oral health and dietary tips for your newborn to 6 month old, and why we will encourage you to bring your baby with you to your examination, seeing your child from such a young age will ensure that we get a good chance to check things are on track. By the age of one, most of the front teeth will be through and we can check them to see if they are developing normally. We also know that by age one 1 in 8 children will have visible tooth decay, which if left untreated could become painful.
Its true that at six months to a year, there isn't a huge amount that we will be able to get done, but it is designed to be a short friendly chat, and an ideal, stress-free visit. If they let us take a peek into the mouth, then great. If not, no worries, we will spend the time talking about how to brush and tips and tricks regarding diet and snacking. If young children are introduced to the dental environment in this way, they are much happier and accepting later in life. Nobody wants to see a child for the first time when they have had to miss school or a nights sleep because of an abscess or toothache. It is stressful for parent, child and dentist!
It won't worry us one bit if at six months we don't get a good look, this is going to be about acclimatisation and familiarisation. Besides, we've seen your excitement as the pregnancy has gone on, and it's not fair keeping us waiting for eight years before we get to meet your little one! Bring your children along to your own dental visit, and we will all build a strong relationship that will hopefully see less dental anxiety in the next generation, and less risk of dental pain or dental costs in the future.