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National Poll Finds Parents Lack Education on Early Childhood Dental Care

Lack of guidance by professionals may mean children are missing crucial early visits to the dentist, according to a new national poll by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan.

The survey found that one in six parents who did not receive advice from their pediatrician or dentist regarding when to begin dental visits believed that they should wait to take their child for their first dental checkup until age 4 or older.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association recommend that parents should start dental visits around age 1 or when baby teeth begin to appear.

Early visits give the dentist an opportunity to examine the baby teeth for abnormalities, tooth decay or any issue that could impact oral health. Visiting the dentist at a young age also helps to familiarize children with their dentist, which could help to alleviate dental anxiety or dental phobia.

Early trips to the dentist can also benefit parents, according to the Mott poll, because these visits often can help parents understand critical components of keeping their children’s teeth healthy, including proper brushing techniques.

Early education can also help parents understand how things such as limiting sugary beverages and not putting their child to bed with a bottle can protect oral health.

The poll was a national survey and received 790 responses from parents across the United States with at least one child between the ages of birth and 5 years old.

More than half of parents did not receive guidance from their child’s doctor or a dentist about when to start dentist visits. Among parents who were not prompted by a doctor or dentist, only 35 percent believed dentist visits should start when children are a year or younger as is recommended.

Sixty percent of survey parents responded their child had a dental visit, and 79 percent reported they believed that visiting the dentist was a valuable experience.

The parents who had not taken their child to the dentist cited reasons including their child was not old enough to see the dentist (42 percent) and their child had healthy teeth and did not need to see the dentist (25 percent).

“These assumptions could result in avoidable tooth decay or tooth loss. Most parents do not have the training or knowledge to spot areas of tooth decay until they are visible, which is unfortunately too late to reverse damage through treatments like fluoride,” said Stefania Caracioni, D.D.S., L.V.I.F.

Caracioni practices general and family dentistry in Topeka.

Another 15 percent of parents that reported they had not taken their child to the dentist responded that they had not taken their child to the dentist because they felt their child would be afraid of the dentist.

“Getting a child in to see the dentist very young helps them relax and not be afraid of dental visits,” said Caracioni.

Health care recommendations for children may also be a factor in why parents delay their child’s first trip to the dentist.

“Most parents receive information and schedules for well-child visits and vaccines from their pediatricians, but do not receive dental visit information. Lack of information translates to parents being uninformed,” Caracioni said.

The Moss poll also found those responding parents who had higher levels of income and education, as well as parents with private dental insurance, had more counseling regarding early dental visits than individuals with lower income and education levels and those with subsidized insurance programs such as Medicaid.


Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan. “Lack of guidance may delay a child’s first trip to the dentist: Less than half of parents received guidance about starting dental visits from a doctor or dentist, worse among low-income parents.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 February 2018.

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