Pediatric Dental Exam

1 What is a Dental Exam for Children?

Regular dental exams are a vital component of preventive health care. During a dental exam for children, the dentist or hygienist will clean your child's teeth and make an evaluation of their risk of tooth decay.

A dental exam for children might include the application of various protective measures, such as sealants or fluoride treatments, these are necessary to reduce the risks of tooth decay.

A dental exam for children might also include dental X-rays (radiographs) or both diagnostic procedures.

During a dental exam for children, a dentist or hygienist will likely talk about your child's diet and oral habits and also demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques.

Other topics for discussion during a dental exam for children might include preventing any oral injuries or, for adolescents, health risks associated with tobacco, substance abuse, and oral piercings.

2 Reasons for Procedure

Here are the most common reasons to undergo a dental exam for children.

Regular dental exams help protect our child's oral health dental exams give your child's dentist a chance to provide tips on ways to care for your child's teeth, as well as detect any problems early when they are most treatable.

When to have a dental exam. The number of factors might determine how frequently your child will need to have dental exam including his or her age, health, and risk of tooth decay.

Consider the following general guidelines:

Ages six months to one year. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association recommended scheduling a child's first dental exam after the first tooth erupts and no later than his or her first birthday.

You must also expect your baby’s teeth and gums to be examined at well-baby checkups. Toddlers, school-age and adolescents.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends scheduling regular dental checkups, with the most common interval being a period of every six months.

However, the dentist might recommend fewer or more frequent visits depending on your child's risk factor for oral problems.

3 Preparing for your Procedure

In preparing for your child's first dental exam, consider whether you would be most comfortable visiting your family dentist or taking your child to a pediatric dentist, who is 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 your child for a dental exam:

carefully time your child's visit. Schedule dental exams for your child at a time of the day when he or she is well-rested and most likely to be cooperative.

Be positive. You must avoid using a word such as "pain" or "hurt" when talking to your child about a dental exam. 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. Do not 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.

4 What to Expect

Here’s what you can expect before, during, and after a dental exam for children.

What happens during a dental exam for children might vary depending on the child's age and treatment needs.

Ages 6 months to 1 year The dentist or hygienist might place your child on a table or have you hold your child on your lap to conduct the exam.

Then the dentist or hygienist will likely:

  • Evaluate your child's oral hygiene and overall health, drinking and eating habits, and his or her risk of tooth decay
  • Remove any stains or deposits on your child's teeth by gently scrubbing with a wet toothbrush
  • Demonstrate proper cleaning techniques
  • Assess how much fluoride your child is getting through his or her diet and use of oral hygiene products — and, if necessary, prescribe a fluoride supplement or apply a topical fluoride treatment to your child's teeth
  • Look for sores or bumps on your child's tongue, inside the cheeks, and on the roof of the mouth
  • Evaluate the impact of habits such as pacifier use and thumb sucking
  • Toddlers, school-age children, and adolescents
  • During each regular checkup, the dentist or hygienist will continue to evaluate your child's oral hygiene and overall health, drinking and eating habits, and his or her risk of tooth decay.

In addition to cleaning your child's teeth, the dentist or hygienist might:

  • Take dental X-rays or, if necessary, do other diagnostic procedures Apply sealants — thin, protective plastic coatings — to permanent molars and other back teeth susceptible to decay
  • Repair any cavities or tooth defects
  • Look for any problems in the way your child's upper and lower teeth fit together
  • Counsel your child about the impact of thumb sucking, jaw clenching or nail biting
  • Recommend pre-orthodontic treatment, such as a special mouthpiece, or orthodontics, such as braces, to straighten your child's teeth or adjust your child's bite

As your child gets older, dental exams might also include counseling about the oral health risks associated with:

  • Drinking sugary beverages
  • Smoking
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Eating disorders
  • Oral piercings
  • Not wearing a mouthguard during contact sports

The dentist or hygienist might also discuss the possible removal of your child's wisdom teeth (third molars) at the appropriate age.

Dental X-ray A dental X-ray (radiograph) allows the dentist to see detailed images of specific sections of your child's mouth.

Various types of oral X-rays are available, including:

Bitewing. This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the crowns of the upper and lower teeth.

During a bitewing X-ray, your child will bite down on the X-ray film holder while the X-ray images are being taken. This view can often reveal decay between teeth that can't be seen during an oral exam.

Periapical. This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the entire tooth and the surrounding bone. This view allows for the best assessment of root development.

Occlusal. This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the way the upper teeth and corresponding lower teeth fit together when the jaw is closed.

Panoramic. This type of X-ray gives the dentist a broad view of the entire mouth. This view is often used for a comprehensive assessment of tooth and jaw development. It can also help determine the need for orthodontics.

Cone beam computerized tomography. This type of X-ray also is used to assess tooth and jaw development. Unlike the other radiographs, it provides a 3-D view so that the dentist can better gauge space and development.

X-rays aren't typically needed at every dental visit. Radiation exposure from dental X-rays is low — but talk to the dentist if you're concerned about the radiation exposure.

Dental impression. In some cases, the dentist might recommend making a dental impression to produce a replica of your child's teeth and oral tissue.

The dentist or hygienist will fill a horseshoe-shaped tray with a soft, gelatin-like material and place it over your child's upper and then lower teeth. After a few minutes, the trays removed and used to create a dental cast of your child's mouth.

A dental cast can be used to study and document the development of jaws and tooth eruption progress.

The dentist might use a dental cast and radiographs to assess potential space for the adequate location of a child's permanent teeth.

5 Procedure Results

If you do not understand a dental exam for children results, consult with your doctor.

The dentist or hygienist will discuss your child's oral health with you, including your child's risk of tooth decay, any other oral health oral health concerns, and preventive measure you can take to improve and protect your child's oral health.

The dentist or hygienist will also recommend the best time to return for a follow-up visit, typically every six months.

If your child is at a high risk of tooth decay or has other oral health concerns, the dentists or hygienist might recommend more frequent checkups.