Dr. Perry Francis believes it is so important that babies have their first visit by their first birthday that he donates his services for this first appointment, free of charge. Yes, every infant who has a first visit within their first year receives a free visit. So today we’re diving into this topic — why is this such an important milestone for the Wild About Smiles team?
Dr. Francis shares his thoughts.
Q&A: Why ‘First Visit by First Birthday’ Is Important
Q: Why is it important for an infant to visit the dentist — even though they don’t have many teeth?
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend that the first dental visit for a child should be around their first birthday. On average, a baby has eight teeth by the time they are 12 months of age. They have now been breastfeeding and/or bottle-fed their entire life, and they have had those eight teeth for almost six months. The teeth that are most commonly decayed from feeding — resulting in what are called baby bottle decay or nursing caries — are usually the upper and lower four front teeth. A dental professional is trained to recognize a decay spot on a tooth much sooner than a person who is not trained in the dental field. We want to educate parents against this common myth: “They are baby teeth; they are going to all fall out anyway.” No, they are important teeth that they will have for a dozen or more years. It is therefore very important to keep them healthy.
Q: What kinds of things are you looking for at this early age?
At Wild About Smiles, we are trained to do the following:
- Look for early signs of decay.
- Deliver oral hygiene and instructions about how to take care of your baby’s teeth.
- Identify abnormalities in the mouth.
- Assess oral habits – thumb-sucking and/or pacifier habits among them. We will give parents helpful pointers on milestones to keep in mind for encouraging the child to stop the habit — pointers that will feel supportive to the child, and not threatening.
- Discuss the baby’s diet – infants have usually been introduced to some solid foods; we will give parents our thoughts on best dietary practices for the whole body. We also talk with parents about sugar intake and establish sugar intake guidelines as the child gets older.
- Consult with the parents on fluoride – intake, toothpaste with or without fluoride and/or other fluoride supplementation.
Our goal is for all babies to be on track with all of the above by their first birthday to prepare them for a lifetime of oral health.
Q: A recent survey of American children’s oral health indicated that the average age of a first visit is 2.6 years old. What are your thoughts in response to that?
The plain and simple answer to this question is this: Old habits die hard. A couple of decades ago, most parents brought their child for a first visit between 3 and 4 years of age, so at least we’ve made some progress. But the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association have spent millions of dollars on educating the American public about the concept of “first visit by first birthday.” It has been a slow process. I have made it my mission to educate the community about the importance of the first visit by the first birthday. Any material you get from our office and information on our website stresses this very concept.
Q: What do the professionals at your practice do to make an infant feel safe and comfortable? How about the parents?
We spend a lot of time talking to parents about their concerns. We also spend a lot of time assessing dietary and hygiene habits and answering questions about hygiene techniques — discussing how the whole family can be involved together taking care of their child’s hygiene. Parents are always holding their child in their lap while we do the first exam. The majority of the time is spent by me assessing the things I have listed above. There are times when I see a baby whose hygiene is very poor; with the parent’s permission, I will clean their child’s teeth with a toothbrush. This is primarily to show the parents a safe and effective way to clean their child’s teeth.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of working with parents of babies? Why do you choose to be a dentist who specializes in children?
Parents of young children are usually the most committed people that we come across. They want to do the best they can to take care of their child. They are like sponges that want to absorb all the information to be the best parents they can be. It’s always a pleasure to deal with such enthusiastic people. Similarly, babies and young children are equally impressionable and eager to learn. I consider it a privilege to be given the opportunity to lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy oral habits. I think it is a lot easier to mold habits from the beginning than it is to change habits once they have formed.
How to Make Your Appointment
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Francis for your almost-1-year-old, request an appointment here; or call our Reno/Sparks office at (775) 331-9477 or the Fallon office at (775) 423-9453.