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Your guide to important check-ups for children

When do you take your child to their first eye test or dental check-up? Here’s what you need to know.

Tatyana Leonov
November 2017

There’s plenty of information about a newborn’s health, but when it comes to children and check-ups – such as optometrist, hearing and dental checks – you may not be entirely clear what’s required and when.

Thankfully, regardless of where in Australia you live, there are plenty of services to help you. Here’s a guide on where to start.

The first few days

Soon after birth, your baby will have a head-to-toe medical check. This includes an all-encompassing assessment of their head size and shape, general eye health, hearing, mouth (including a check for cleft palate), heart, lungs, hands, feet, spine, hips, reflexes and genitals. If any issues are found, your paediatrician will provide advice.

In every state and territory of Australia, parents of newborns are given a booklet to help them keep track of their child’s health and development from birth onwards. Essentially, these booklets outline important health checks and are designed to provide a helpful record for parents, guardians and any health professionals caring for your child.

Eye tests

When it comes to vision, the tests vary depending on your state or territory. Victoria’s Department of Education and Training recommends children have their second check (following the newborn check) when they are 3.5 years old. This is a screening test called the Melbourne Initial Screening Test (MIST). If any issues are picked up, further diagnostic testing might be required.

In NSW, the Statewide Eyesight Preschooler Screening (StEPS) program offers all 4-year-old children free vision screening. Similar programs exist in other states and territories, with the main objective to identify any vision problems before school starts.

“Children may also have squints, one turning eye or lazy eye,” says Dr Hasantha Gunasekera, paediatrician at the Children's Hospital at Westmead. “These children should be seen sooner, but children without symptoms should be captured with state-run programs such as StEPS.”

If you’re not sure how screening works in your state or territory, speak to your child’s health nurse or GP.

Hearing tests

After hearing is tested at birth, routine examinations are recommended with at least 1 check-up before your child starts school. Children have a greater chance of developing normal speech skills the earlier hearing loss is picked up.

Children can also experience temporary hearing loss, for example as a result of infection, which if treated properly usually has no long-term consequences.

Dental checks

Dental check-ups should start early. Dental Health Services Victoria recommends that children have their first dentist appointment at 2 years of age, while Queensland Health and Western Australia’s Dental Health Services both recommend that the first appointment is at age 1.

Getting an oral health check while they’re still so young not only enables your dentist to spot any dental conditions early, it helps your child to familiarise themselves with a new medical environment – one that can sometimes be perceived as frightening.

When to seek help

Dr Paul Bauert, a paediatrician and member of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Federal Council, says there are milestones for different stages of a child’s life.

“Your family doctor will conduct regular reviews of your baby’s growth, weight, hearing, sight and so on,” he explains, adding that these reviews might take place weekly, monthly or at some other interval, depending on your child’s development.

If you have any concerns about your child’s health at any time, see your GP for advice and a referral to a relevant specialist, if needed.

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