Weather Updates

Earlier the better for first dental visit

The American Academy Pediatrics recommends children have their first dental visit by age 1.  |  Submitted by DeltDental

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children have their first dental visit by age 1. | Submitted by Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation

storyidforme: 31383781
tmspicid: 11063910
fileheaderid: 5055993

Cleaning tips for young

Clean your baby’s gums with a damp washcloth after feedings to keep bacteria levels low.

Once the first tooth appears, use a soft toothbrush and water to brush your baby’s teeth and gums in soft, gentle circles twice a day. Check for any spots or stains.

Within six months of getting the first tooth — and no later than the first birthday — your baby should have his or her first dental visit.

Source: Delta Dental of Illinois

Updated: July 7, 2012 8:03AM

Sarah Peto thought she was doing the right thing when she took her oldest child to the dentist for the first time at age 3. That’s what her pediatrician recommended. And all went well at that visit with her little girl, Sophie, now 8.

So when the second child came along, Peto also waited until he was 3 to take him to the dentist. Not such a good idea, as it turns out. Andrew, now six, had seven cavities.

“I felt horrible,” says Peto, of La Grange. “He had to go in for four different appointments to get them filled. So it was very uncomfortable for him.”

It’s hard to imagine that a toddler can amass that much decay. But they can, and worse, according to Dr. Richard Ulrich, a Naperville-based dentist, who added that this “first visit by first birthday policy” is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

“Most parents think, ‘How much damage can be done at age 1?’ But you’ve got to catch them early,” Ulrich says. “Because if mom or dad has a genetic history of lots of cavities, you can wind up with a lot of problems by age 3.”

Ulrich says that first visit is more about teaching the parents the dos and don’ts of toddler oral hygiene as it is about treating the kids. Sure he checks their little mouths. But he also reviews brushing techniques, nutrition, when to start fluoride toothpaste with the parents. And he reminds parents to never allow a child to fall asleep with a milk or a juice bottle in his mouth.

Early visits can also detect structural issues, potential speech problems and soft tissue abnormalities, according to Dr. Katina Morelli, dental director for Delta Dental of Illinois.

And that’s why the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation is launching a statewide public service campaign to educate parents about the importance of taking their babies to the dentist within six months of getting the first tooth or no later than the first year.

As part of their efforts, the nonprofit, Naperville-based foundation, promises to donate one oral health kit to underserved children for every Illinois parent who pledges to take their child to the dentist by age 1 or to maintain regular dental visits for children older than 1. To pledge, parents need to visit

“Knowing this is a big issue, we felt we needed to educate the public on this,” says Ann Marie Walker, director of corporate communications for Delta Dental of Illinois.

The kit contains a youth tooth brush, children’s tooth paste, floss and a tip sheet with the dos and don’ts that affect dental health .

Peto certainly learned a lot from her oldest boy’s experience. And you can be sure, her next child, and the next, made their way to the dentist’s chair way before age three.

“New or inexperienced moms can learn a lot from an early visit to the dentist,” Peto says. “I wish I had known earlier.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.