Children should go to the dentist within six months of getting their first tooth and no later than age 1, but statistics show many do not. In 2021, as many as 75% of children under the age of 3 did not visit the dentist.1 The leading cause of this issue is that many parents are unaware that kids should visit the dentist by age 1.
Tooth decay is one of the most prevalent diseases among children and can develop any time after the first tooth comes in, starting at around 6 months of age. Baby teeth help children chew, speak properly, and hold space for permanent teeth, so taking care of them is vital. Preventive dental checkups with a dentist are key.
Visiting the dentist by age 1 helps the child and parent establish a relationship with a dentist, which helps set a foundation for good oral health care and habits. Additionally, a visit by age 1 and regular visits thereafter help prevent extensive damage and the need for more comprehensive care in the future. Often a younger child can’t articulate the pain resulting from a dental infection, and once the issue is discovered, the damage is so severe it can require multiple dental visits, oral surgery, or extractions.
Delta Dental of Illinois and its Foundation launched Dentist By 1 to educate parents and caregivers about the importance of taking their children to the dentist by age 1 and encouraging them to schedule a visit. The program also provides training for dental professionals and students to help them feel more comfortable treating young patients.
On day two of the training, dental teams provide free preventive and diagnostic services, including dental cleanings, exams, fluoride treatments, sealants, and X-rays. They also educate parents/caregivers on how to help their children care for their teeth at home. Each child treated receives an oral health kit with a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and a dental care tip sheet.
At the September 2022 Dentist by 1 event at Malcolm X College in Chicago, about 76% of children who received care had never been to a dentist before, and 14% had cavities. Referrals are provided for all children who need follow-up care. The Dentist by 1 program has provided care to nearly 450 Illinois children and trained 85 dental teams in person and 438 oral health professional attendees via webinars in 2020 and 2021.
Following the conclusion of the Dentist By 1 event in Chicago, Dr. Lance Lambert, a Delta Dental network pediatric dentist and Dentist by 1 ambassador, participated in a Q&A session regarding the program.
Q: How long have you been participating in Dentist By 1, and what drew you to participate in it?
I have been participating in Dentist By 1 for 10 years. I am very passionate about oral health, especially for children. It has been a neat opportunity to get out and share my excitement with other dentists and hygienists while also making a positive impact on the lives of many families and children. And, frankly, I have a fun time. It’s rewarding and fun getting to meet people and expose them to the benefits of dentistry.
Q: How do you see dentists/dental staff grow, and what do you hear from them after your seminar and their day of providing care?
During the training, many dentists and dental staff are often surprised at the difference between working with young children and their parents. It’s not complicated, it’s not rocket science — you’re looking at the child, you’re talking to their parents, but treating children does require a softer touch. I guess the hardest part if you are not used to it, is having little babies crying in your office.
Q: How do you and parents and caregivers see a child grow through this program?
When I have a patient that I have been seeing since they were a year old, and they come in for visits as they get older, they are happy little patients, hopping up in the chair; they are excited to be there. If I have a child that comes in for their first visit at 3 years old and has never been to the dentist before, it is a different story — those kids are much more anxious, and it’s a lot harder for them and us.
Q: Why is it so important a child visits the dentist by age 1, and how important is it to make parents and caregivers aware of that fact through a program like this?
We want to establish good oral hygiene habits and good dietary habits early in life, so they become second nature for children and their parents. If you wait until a kid is 3 or 4 years old, a lot of habits and patterns are pretty locked in, and if they are locked in with bad habits, it’s just going to be an uphill battle.
Children received dental care and learned about oral health from Captain Super Grin from the Foundation’s Land of Smiles program at the Dentist By 1 event at Malcolm X College.
Q: How rewarding is it to be able to keep working with the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation and Dentist By 1 to participate in educating dental professionals and providing care?
I really have enjoyed engaging with the Foundation partly because I get to meet a lot of great people who are interested in helping kids have healthy smiles and partly because I get to help teach the next generation of dentists. It’s a blast to have the clinic (on day two of the program) and have people who have never looked at a 12-month or 14-month-old mouth say, “Wow!” and you can see the lightbulb go off. As a teacher, that’s a big reward to me — probably my biggest kick out of the whole thing!
To learn more about the Dentist By 1 program, click here.
1 Delta Dental Preventive Care Study, 2022