PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to examine Mexican American immigrant caregivers’ beliefs and motivations surrounding the first dental visit for their young children (median age=5-years-old).
METHODS: Qualitative interviews were conducted among a convenience sample of 48 low-income, Mexican American mothers about their young children’s oral health. Transcripts were independently read, coded, and thematically analyzed.
RESULTS: Half (51%) of first dental visits were for parent-initiated reasons, including: for pain or visible dental problems; for parent’s proactive desire to get a checkup; or to avoid future dental problems. The other half was initiated by external prompts, especially pediatrician recommendations and school requirements. Once a child went to the dentist for his/her first visit, 94% continued with regular checkups. The mean age for a first dental visit was 3-years-old. Three parents reported cases in which dentists discouraged visits for symptomatic children before they were 3-years-old.
CONCLUSIONS: The low-income, urban Mexican American parents interviewed take their children to their first dental visit when they are approximately 3-years-old, much later than the recommended 1-year-old first visit for this at-risk population. Physicians are well positioned to play an important role in prompting first dental visits.