Objective: To estimate the prevalence of dental visits among preschool children and determine the factors associated with using dental services.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted with 1,129 five-year-old children from the Pelotas Birth Cohort Study in Pelotas (Southern Brazil) 2004, from September 2009 to January 2010. Use of dental services at least once in the child's life and the reason for the child's first dental visit were recorded. The categories assigned for the first dental visit were: routine check-up, resolution of a problem, or never saw a dentist. The oral examinations and interviews were performed in the children's homes. Socioeconomic aspects and independent variables related to the mother and child were analyzed using multivariable logistic regression.
Results: The prevalence of dental visits (both categories combined) was 37.0%. The main predictors for a routine visit were higher economic status, mothers with more schooling, and mothers who had received guidance about prevention. Major predictors for a visit because of a problem were having felt pain in the previous six months, mothers with higher education level, and mothers who had received guidance about prevention. Approximately 45.0% of mothers received information about how to prevent cavities, usually from the dentist. Children of mothers who adhered to health programs were more likely to have had a routine dental visit.
Conclusions: The rate of preschool visits to dental services was lower than the rate for medical appointments (childcare). In addition to income and education, maternal behavior plays an important role in routine visits. Pain reported in the last six months and a high number of teeth affected by tooth decay, independent of other factors, were associated with visits for a specific problem. It is important to integrate oral health instruction into maternal and child health programs.