We all know that we should visit the dentist every six months, right? Well actually it’s not quite as simple as that. Dental recall, or the time between ‘checkup’ appointments, has been in the news again today, so how often should children see the dentist?
National guidance recommends that dentists consider a number of factors when deciding how often a patient needs to be seen including caries risk (your child’s risk of getting dental decay), decay experience (how many decayed teeth they have had in the past) and also the risk posed to them if they get dental decay (infected teeth are a much bigger deal if you were born with a heart problem or are diabetic, for example). As part of the caries risk assessment your dentist will consider your child’s diet, how well their teeth are being brushed and how much protective fluoride they are getting.
So, in short your child could be seen every 3, 6, 9 or 12 months, but until their 18th birthday the time between appointments should never be more than 12 months. For adults, ‘check up’ appointments may be up to 2 years apart so why the difference for children?
Firstly, there is evidence that decay can progress more quickly in baby teeth because the enamel is thinner. Secondly, we have other important jobs to do at your child’s dental appointment, including checking that the teeth are coming through at the right time and in the right place. Thirdly, we also use the opportunity to pass on our top tips! We can advise you how to care for your child’s teeth at each stage of their life. This is really important for children because if they have a childhood free of dental decay, they are far more likely to stay that way as they move into adulthood. Finally, regular visits allow your child to get used to coming to the dentist. This acclimatises them to the surgery and allows them to start building a relationship with the dental team. This can be really important if treatment is needed at a later date.
But what if you don’t agree? Ideally the decision on how long to leave between visits should be made after a discussion between the patient, parent and dentist. In practice, it is usually the dentist as the ‘expert’ care giver who makes a recommendation but patients and their parents should be empowered to speak up if they don’t understand the decision. Don’t forget, if something changes or you or your child are worried about something or your child is in pain, please bring your appointment forward.
We are, by nature, creatures of routine but just because we are used to doing something, it doesn’t make it right or necessary. For many, 6 month check ups will stay at just that but for others there be benefit from a little closer attention or conversely a dental ‘holiday’ for good behaviour!