It might look a little odd to see a baby laid back in a dental chair for a routine examination. But new research and guidelines put forth by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) would like to see more of this in dental practices across the country.

The AAPD released research this month that asserts there may be risk factors in found in a child's medical record that are helpful for predicting risk for cavities.

Well, OK. But what does that really mean? And why does it matter?

The research is part of a series of studies that explore pediatric medical providers' perceptions and practices surrounding oral health for children. The research produced a predictive model that suggests, "the odds of a child having tooth decay at the first dental visit more than doubles for every year of increased age." This is according to a news release about the study.

A child's first visit to the dentist should take place after the first tooth appears, but no later than his or her first birthday, according to the ADA's consumer website,

Some parents assume that because baby teeth will eventually fall out, there's little point in caring for them. This is a huge mistake.

Even though you can't see them, a child's permanent teeth are developing under the primary ones, so it's important to have a dentist check to see that everything is developing normally.

Dr. Paul Casamassimo is chief policy officer of the AAPD's oral health research and policy center and a member of the ADA's Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention. He feels strongly about the above recommendation. "By delaying the first dental visit, parents take an unnecessary gamble on their child's oral health," said Dr. Casamassimo.

According to the study, pediatricians and other primary care providers can use five variables to assess the odds of future or present tooth decay starting at the 18-month well child visit.

The variables include:

  • age of the child
  • history of a preventive dental visit
  • duration of breastfeeding
  • no-show rate to appointments
  • preferred spoken language

Using this checklist consistently can go a long way toward integrating oral health intervention into well-child visits, which is the goal.

"Knowing a toddler is at risk for cavities based on information routinely gathered from the well-child visits has the potential to engage health care providers in oral health and encourage needed referrals for dental care," Dr. Casamassimo said.

The full report of this study, including an example of how the model could be adapted into practice workflow, can be found on the AAPD website,