Many Iowa parents wait until their child is several years old before taking them in for their first visit to the dentist, but experts say it should be a lot sooner.

Dr. Ed Schooley, a Des Moines pediatric dentist and dental director for Delta Dental of Iowa, says a statewide public service campaign is being launched called “Dentist By One.”

“It is to encourage parents to get their children into the dental office by age one,” Schooley says. “Numerous studies not only indicate the high cost-effectiveness of such preventive visits, but there are studies that even indicate treatment costs can double if you wait to take your child in more towards the age of four or five.”

Tooth decay is nearly 100-percent preventable, Schooley says, so it’s important to learn good oral health habits at a young age.

“Just as we’ve learned the value of well baby visits on the medical side,” Schooley says, “we’re really seeing the value of bringing the kids in (to the dentist) early to get the toddlers off on a good path to a lifetime of good oral health and to really educate parents on some key infant care instructions.”

While some children aren’t taken to the family dentist until they’re in Kindergarten or first grade, Schooley recommends a child go to the dentist by age one — or within six months after the first tooth erupts.

“What the dentist will do at this first visit is look for any early signs of tooth decay, check for problems in the head, neck, jaw, skin area, review tooth-brushing and flossing techniques and even positions that will help the parent take care of the baby’s teeth.”

Schooley offers more tips: Oral health care should begin at birth. Caregivers should gently wipe the baby’s gums with a soft, wet cloth after each feeding. When primary teeth begin to appear, they should be cleaned with a soft, child-sized toothbrush twice a day. Toothpaste can be introduced once the child is two-years-old and able to spit. All tooth brushing on babies and toddlers should be performed by the parent.

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