Age 1 Dental Visit

Did You Know?

  • Children who are taken for a dental visit by age 1 are likely to feel good about oral health professionals and dental visits.
  • Children who have an age 1 dental visit are less likely to have tooth decay than children who have their first dental visit at ages 2 or 3.

Brush Up on Oral Health

Tooth decay can be prevented or managed if children have early dental visits and if parents or other caregivers take good care of their child’s teeth between dental visits. Head Start staff play a key role in helping parents understand the importance of regular dental visits, beginning with the first dental visit by age 1. Goals of dental visits are preventing tooth decay and finding and treating oral problems early.

This issue of Brush Up on Oral Health discusses the importance of the age 1 dental visit. It offers tips for Head Start staff to explain to parents what happens during the dental visit. A recipe for a healthy snack that can be made in a Head Start classroom or at home is also included.

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Importance of the Dental Visit

Young child at first dental visit with doctor and mother

Some parents believe that because primary (baby) teeth are going to “fall out anyway” they do not need to take care of them. Primary teeth are important to a child’s growth and development. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Dental Association recommend that children have their first dental visit by age 1. The state’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) dental fees and payment policies must line up with the state’s pediatric dental periodicity schedule. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry maintains a webpage with the dental periodicity schedule from each state.

The age 1 dental visit is a foundation for building a lifetime of good oral health. By beginning visits early, children learn that dental visits are usually not associated with pain or fear of the oral health professional. The visit is also an important opportunity to learn if a child is at high risk for developing tooth decay. During the visit, the oral health professional can talk to parents about steps to reduce their child’s risk for decay.

Explaining to Parents What Happens During the Dental Visit

Young child getting teeth examinedA child’s first dental visit is usually short. The goal is to make the visit as pleasant as possible. Some oral health professionals ask the parent to sit in the dental chair and hold their child in their lap during the visit. Other oral health professionals use the knee-to-knee position to look into the child’s mouth (see photo on page 1). During the visit the oral health professional:

  • Describes what they will do during the visit and asks the parents if they have any questions. Parents should be encouraged to ask questions about their child’s oral health and their own oral health. 
  • Checks the child’s mouth and teeth. Using a small mirror, the oral health professional checks the child’s lips, cheeks, gums, and roof of the mouth for any problems and the teeth for signs of tooth decay.
  • Checks the child’s bite and their jaw’s growth. The oral health professional checks the child’s teeth and jaw to make sure that they are developing in the right way. They also describe what to expect for the child’s oral development during the next few months.
  • Provides preventive care. The oral health professional may provide care to prevent tooth decay. This care may include cleaning the child’s teeth with a toothbrush and applying fluoride varnish. Fluoride varnish is a liquid that is painted onto children’s teeth to prevent tooth decay and to repair early stages of tooth decay. This can be done up to four times a year depending on the child’s risk for developing tooth decay. 
  • Informs parents about healthy oral hygiene habits. Because home care is a vital part of good oral health, the oral health professional may show parents how to brush their child’s teeth and how much fluoride toothpaste to use. The oral health professional may also teach parents how and when to start flossing the child’s teeth. Other topics that may be discussed with parents include timing of the next dental visit and setting goals to promote their child’s oral health. For example, a goal may be brushing their child’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day instead of once a day.
  • Talks about foods, drinks, and habits that can cause oral problems. The oral health professional may ask questions about feeding practices and the use of sippy cups. Answers to these questions help the health professional know if the child is at high or low risk for developing tooth decay. The oral health professional may also ask parents about their child’s thumb sucking, use of pacifiers, and other habits that may cause oral problems. 
  • Offers tips on how to prevent oral injuries. Injuries to the head, face, and mouth are common in young children, especially when they are learning to walk and climb. The oral health professional may offer tips on how to prevent oral injuries and what to do if an injury occurs. 

Even if a child is fearful or cannot cooperate during the dental visit, the visit is still helpful. The child may enjoy riding up and down in the dental chair or seeing how dental tools, like the air, water, and suction hoses and mouth mirror, work. Often, the oral health professional can get a quick look into the child’s mouth to see if there are any problems.

Baked Kale ChipsCook’s Corner: Baked Kale Chips

Here is a delicious healthy snack that children can make in a Head Start classroom or at home with their families.


  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Wash and dry kale.
  4. With a knife or kitchen scissors, cut the kale leaves from the thick stems and tear the leaves into bite-size pieces.
  5. Drizzle the kale with oil and sprinkle with seasoned salt. Toss to combine.
  6. Spread the kale on the cookie sheet.
  7. Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until the edges of the leaves are brown, but not burnt.

Makes eight to 10 servings

Safety tip: An adult should slice the ingredients. To prevent burns, young children should not use an oven.

Contact Us

The National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness welcomes your feedback on this issue, as well as your suggestions for topics for future issues. Please forward your comments to health at ecetta dot info or call 866-763-6481.

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Last Updated: September 25, 2019