Dental Exam for Infants and Toddlers

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Infants and toddlers should not be expected to be cooperative during an oral examination. Crying and movement are developmentally age-appropriate behaviors for young children. Explaining expected behaviors to parents prior to, during and after infant care, visits can help allay any fears and concerns they may have.

There is a simple six-step protocol for an infant oral care visit:Caries risk assessment;Proper positioning of the child (knee-to-knee exam);Age-appropriate toothbrushing prophylaxis;Clinical examination of the child’s oral cavity and dentition;Fluoride varnish treatment; and,Assignment of risk, anticipatory guidance, self-management goals, and counseling.Proper positioning of the child is critical to conducting an effective and efficient clinical exam in a young child. In general, the knee-to-knee position should be used with children ages 6 months to 3 years, or up to age 5 with children who have special health care needs.

Children older than 3 may be able to sit forward on their caregiver’s lap or sit alone in a chair. Examiners and caregivers need to work together to transition the child smoothly from the interview to the exam. The clinician should explain what will happen (“Tell-Show-Do”) prior to starting and anticipate that young children may cry since crying is developmentally appropriate for children at this age. If the child can perceive a friendly and comfortable interaction between the clinician and caretaker, a positive tone is frequently set for the visit. Knee-to-knee positioning allows the child to see the parent throughout the exam. It also allows the caregiver to observe clinical findings and hygiene demonstrations directly, while gently helping to stabilize the child safely for the clinical examination.

Before scheduling your child’s first dental exam, consider whether you’d be most comfortable visiting your family dentist or taking your child to a pediatric dentist — a dentist who provides specialized dental and oral care to children, from infants to teens. Pediatric dentists typically have child-friendly offices and equipment specially designed for children.To help prepare your child for a dental exam:Carefully time your child’s visit.Schedule dental exams for your child at a time of day when he or she is well-rested and most likely to be cooperative.

Be positive.When talking to your child about his or her dental exam, avoid using words such as “pain” or “hurt.” Instead, tell your child that the dentist will use special tools to make sure your child’s teeth are healthy. Remind your child that you visit the dentist, too — but don’t talk about any negative dental experiences you might have had.Listen to your child.Encourage your child to share any fears he or she might have about visiting the dentist or having a dental exam.