When a child is ill, parents and caregivers typically know when a visit to their healthcare provider is necessary. But, what about when your child feels perfectly fine? Do children need to see a provider when they are well, too?
The answer is yes. Bringing your child in for routine well-child exams is important.
Since children grow and change rapidly, regular preventive care can help catch and treat problems before they become serious.
Well-child exams are critical, as they are more thorough than a quick clinic visit for immunizations or sports physical. These exams include a review of a child’s developmental milestones, social development (family, school, etc.), as well as their physical and health history. They also provide any necessary referrals and immunizations. In addition, a well-child exam gives parents a chance to discuss any health concerns with their child’s provider. Parents may even consider bringing along a list of questions.
A child’s age dictates what takes place at each well-child exam. For example, during an exam for an active 2-year-old, the doctor might ensure parents are safety-proofing the home, so the toddler doesn’t drink a dangerous household cleaner or fall down the stairs. An exam for an older teenager may include discussions about substance abuse and other teen issues.
A big part of well-child exams is the prevention of injuries, diseases, and developmental disabilities. In addition to looking at current issues in your child’s life, providers help you look ahead to your child’s future needs. The needs of young children change very quickly, and it is helpful to stay one step ahead of them.
Pediatricians, most family physicians or mid-level providers perform well-child exams. Typically, infants and toddlers should have routine well-child exams when they are 2-5 days old, then at 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15 and 18 months old, at age 2 and 2 1/2 years, then yearly exams from age 3 through 21.
The first dental exam should take place when your child’s first tooth begins to appear, or by his or her first birthday. After a child’s first dental visit, check-ups are scheduled based on the child’s individual risk for dental decay and other dental problems rather than a predetermined schedule of every six months as had been the standard of care many years ago. Now follow-ups vary between 3, 6 or 12 months and coming every three months is not uncommon as more children than people realize are at risk for decay.
While some people believe children’s’ primary, or “baby,” teeth aren’t very important since they eventually fall out and are replaced by permanent teeth. In fact, “baby” teeth are extremely important for many reasons. A child’s first set of teeth help them speak clearly and chew naturally and help lay a path for permanent teeth to follow when they come in.
Babies should have his or her first thorough eye exam at about six months of age even if parents or caregivers do not suspect any eye or vision problems. An optometrist will test for things like excessive or unequal amounts of nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism; eye movement ability; and eye health problems. While these issues are not common, it is important to identify them at a very young age since vision development and eye health problems are easier to correct if treatment begins early.
Following the first exam, children should have an eye exam at age 3, before they begin first grade and then every two years from then on.
Of course, each child is different, and each of your child’s providers may recommend an alternative exam schedule that best suits his or her health needs.
Parents, you may contact your local clinic to schedule a well-child exam.
Marna Schwartz, MD reviewed the information presented here.
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