Infant Oral Exams - Importance and Technique

by Drs Tim Keys and Sarah Dumais Pelletier (from Children's Dental Care)

Read Time: 5mins 


Infant oral examinations are one of the most important dental examinations a person can have. Although you may think there is not very much to see or do, there is a wealth of information you can gather, and provide, to new parents. If you are not experienced in performing an infant oral examination, it can be challenging. However, we will provide some tips to help you along the way.


1. WHY DO AN INFANT ORAL EXAMINATION?

  • Address poor dental behaviours; diet and oral hygiene 
  • Nearly 1 in 2 (42%) children aged 5 – 10 have dental decay (AIHW 2016)
  • Apply fluoride varnish
  • Reduces decay in primary teeth by 37%(1)
  • Establish a Dental Home
  • Provide guidance on habits such as dummy and finger/thumb sucking
  • Improves compliance


2. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF AN INFANT ORAL EXAMINATION?

  • Reduction in the cost of dental care for the patient, by 50%, over a 5-year period(2) 
  • Reduction in the number of dental procedures (3.58 less in early starters)(3)


3. THERE ARE CLEAR BENEFITS OF AN EARLY EXAMINATION, HOWEVER WHY ISN’T IT MORE COMMON?

  • Societal norms – paediatric examinations used to only be performed by medical doctors
  • Lack of confidence and training for dental practitioners
  • Finances
  • CDBS only starts the year the child turns 2
  • Lack of parental knowledge


How to do an early infant oral exam

1. Talk to the parents about the child’s diet and oral hygiene practices. Your receptionist can get them to prefill a form with this information on

  • Ensure you have breastfeeding and bottle-feeding questions on the form. Also, ask if they do this on demand past 12 months and/or as the child goes to sleep

2. Let the parent know the child will cry (this is NORMAL) and you will do a lap-to-lap examination. You will have a good look and then apply fluoride varnish

3. Sit opposite the parent (knee-to-knee) and get the child to ‘hug’ him/her with legs on either side of the hips. Then, lay the child’s head back on your knees/pillow and get the parent to hold the child’s hands.

4. If the child is crying, that is great, you can see lots! If not, you can use a toothbrush or a soft mouthprop to help keep the mouth open.

5. Get the child a present, high five the parent and you are all done!


As a dental practitioner, you can provide advice to your patients, some of which may be pregnant or have children. This is a great time to highlight to them the benefits and ease of an early dental examination. An added benefit is that it will establish this young patient in your book as a frequent recall and hopefully the family.


Good luck with the examination, you are doing a lot of awesome preventive care!


1. Marinho VC, Worthington HV, Walsh T, Clarkson JE. Fluoride varnishes for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013:Cd002279.

2. Savage MF, Lee JY, Kotch JB, Vann WF, Jr. Early preventive dental visits: effects on subsequent utilization and costs. Pediatrics 2004;114:e418-423.

3. Nowak AJ, Casamassimo PS, Scott J, Moulton R. Do early dental visits reduce treatment and treatment costs for children? Pediatr Dent 2014;36:489-493.


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