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When should I take my child to the dentist?

The question

I have a toddler. When I should take her to the dentist?

The answer

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Just a few days ago, I asked the mother of a toddler if she had taken him to their dentist yet. Her answer was not uncommon: "My dentist told me to bring my toddler when he is a bit older."

But pediatric dentists are very adamant that soon after the first tooth comes in, a child should be seen.

Two years ago at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatric dentists offered a symposium on dental care in children. The idea behind the symposium was for pediatricians to learn more about dental care, because often pediatricians are the first clinicians to see a cavity or early signs of dental erosions. (See for various topics regarding pediatric dentistry.)

In Canada, pediatric dentists are also currently working closely with the Canadian Pediatric Society to ensure that children get dental attention at an earlier age. By being proactive, dentists may be saving taxpayers money and children discomfort by avoiding general anesthesia to fix painful, numerous cavities.

Bottle caries, which happens when a child falls asleep with a bottle in the mouth, is still far too common. The contents - mostly fruit juices, but also milk - then interact with bacteria in the mouth to form acids, which damages the enamel.

Even though fluoridation of water in various municipalities in Canada has led to reduced cavities in children, it remains controversial. Most dentists claim it is safe, and yet, other scientists or activists take the opposite view, claiming that fluoride is not safe - that, in fact, it may increase the risk of cancer. But data currently favours the safety of fluoride.

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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