Going to the dentist or eye doctor for the first time can be a scary experience for a youngster.
The dentist is asking the child to open their mouths and then they look around inside. The eye doctor shines bright lights at them and sometimes puts drops in their eyes.
But parents know all such activities are for their children’s health and well being.
Dr. Stephen Gildersleeve, optometrist with Eyes on Lincoln, said that routine eye exams can start around the age of 3 and can even be done as early as six months if there is a parental concern. However, he said that majority of initial eye exams are usually just prior to enrollment in kindergarten.
A general eye exam for a child (it is not the same exam as for an adult, Gildersleeve notes) checks eye muscles, focusing and depth perception. If normal, he recommends rechecks every 1 to 2 years through elementary school.
Early exams are looking for any potential issues and the ruling out of problems, he said.
Detection and treatment of major eye issues such as lazy eye (Amblyopia) or cross eyes (Strabismus) are important to address early on so that a child’s eyes and brain develop a good relationship.
Gildersleeve suggests that parents be aware of possible sight problems that might require an eye exam, watching for such issues as squinting or standing too close to the television, holding books too close to the eyes, holding books to one side or complaining about tired eyes. If the child is old enough to read, he said parents should pay attention if the child says that the words seem to move on the page.
During a youngster’s eye exam, Gildersleeve said that parents are encouraged to be in the exam room.
“A good trick to help a child,” he said, “is to schedule eye exams for Mom and Dad and any siblings at the same time.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), getting an early start on regular dental care is an important step on the road to teaching children healthy dental habits.
The AAPD suggests that a child’s first dental visit should be when the first tooth has appeared (6 to 12 months) or no later than the first birthday. They say the most important reason is the establishing of a thorough prevention program since dental problems can begin early in life.
The AAPD cites early childhood caries or tooth decay as a big concern for parents, saying that once a child’s diet moves to baby bottles and includes anything besides breast milk, the erupted teeth can be at risk of decay.
The organization emphasizes the importance of a child’s primary (baby) teeth and the need to keep these baby teeth in place until they are lost naturally. Benefits of baby teeth include the maintenance of good nutrition by letting children chew properly; important in speech development; and the saving of space for permanent teeth to emerge.
A child’s typical first visit to a dentist could include development of a preventative home care plan; information about and risk assessment of caries; facts about fingers, thumbs and pacifier habits; and growth and development information.