How to Prepare Children for their First Pediatric Dentist Appointment
The Canadian Dental Association recommends that children see a pediatric dentist within 6 months of their first tooth eruption or by their first birthday. This ensures they get their teeth checked before any problems can arise. In most cases, a dentist visit every 6 months is recommended for preventative measures.
There are numerous reasons for taking your child to the dentist while they are young. Dentists are able to advise on how to clean teeth at home and identify any problems and fix them right away. This also teaches your child that going to the dentist is a part of self-care and that dentists can help prevent problems that stem from the mouth.
Pediatric dentists often take X-rays during early visits to show any decay between the teeth and to determine whether the teeth are growing in properly as they should. Dentists are able to see if teeth are coming in crooked or if the mouth is too crowded, which can cause problems.
Although baby teeth will fall out to make room for adult teeth, it’s important to keep the baby teeth healthy. If a baby tooth becomes infected or damaged, it can cause issues with your child’s oral health for years. Infections enter the bloodstream through tooth decay and can cause other health concerns.
Going to a pediatric dentist from an early age will help teach your child proper oral hygiene habits that will keep their mouths healthy throughout their lives.
How to Prepare for Your Child’s First Dentist Visit
The dentist can be scary for children if they don’t know what to expect. Schedule their appointment for the morning when they are most away and alert. Having an afternoon appointment that is close to nap time or after they’ve been playing all day can result in a poor first experience.
If your child is a toddler or preschooler, talk to them and help them understand what they can expect from the dentist visit. Build excitement! A pediatric dentist is trained to make the visit as calming as possible, and many offices even have toys and games for their younger patients. Your child does not harbor any negative feelings towards their new dentist so do your best to keep any concerns to yourself. It is a brand new experience for your child, so it is up to you to make it as fun as a trip to Grandma’s – without the candy, of course!
What to Expect at Your Child’s First Visit
The first appointment will likely be short and sweet. So the child doesn’t get scared, the dentist will talk to them and show them proper brushing techniques. Depending on the age of your child, you may be asked to hold the child or have them sit on your lap while the dentist pokes around in their mouths.
This first visit is mostly a meet-and-greet for your child and their new dentist. It is a way for them to familiarize themselves with one another and for the dentist to build a relationship with your child so going for regular cleanings is a positive experience. They will look around at your child’s teeth to check for any issues or cavities. It’s possible they will save that for the second visit. Your child’s dentist will also speak with you, the parent, about good oral hygiene habits and how you can promote good habits at home.
The first appointment is a great time to bring up any concerns or questions you have for the dentist. This includes thumb-sucking, whether you should be encouraging fluoride use, how often to brush, and even what kind of toothpaste to use.
When children are younger, they should visit the dentist every 6 months.
Overcoming Fear of a Pediatric Dentist
Some children do have anxiety about visiting medical offices, and a pediatric dentist is no different. But there are ways to help your little ones overcome any fear they may have about these routine check-ups.
Play Pretend: At home, make it a game to play pretend and play “dentist office.” This will let your child step into the role of the dentist and they can look at your teeth. Have them pretend with baby dolls or stuffed animals – cleaning and polishing their teeth.
Be a Cheerleader: A parent is their child’s greatest cheerleader. Encourage your child and get them excited about visiting the dentist. The more positive you are about it, the more likely your child will be comfortable during his/her appointment.
Plan a Reward: After your child’s appointment, reward them with a trip to the park or playground for their good behavior and clean bill of health. Knowing this will also help keep your child’s mind off of the dentist visit.
Be Prepared: To make your child as comfortable as possible, it can help to bring along their favorite stuffed animal or toy. Something familiar and comforting can help ward away any scary thoughts they have about being in the dentist chair.
How to Care for Your Child’s Teeth At Home
Having a good dental hygiene routine at home can make dentist appointments much more enjoyable for your child. Getting them used to brushing and caring for their teeth prevents cavities and other issues that may make the dentist visit scarier.
- Before your child’s teeth erupt, clean their gums with a damp, soft cloth.
- Brush with a soft-bristled toothbrush, only using water before the age of 2. After they reach 2 years old, introduce a small dab of toothpaste. Teach your child to spit out the toothpaste after brushing.
- Avoid giving your child a bottle or milk or juice at bedtime or when you put them down for a nap to prevent baby bottle tooth decay.
- Assist your child in brushing their teeth until they reach 6 years old. Have your child watch you brush to learn good brushing habits and patterns to minimize missing any spots.
- Avoid sticky foods and treats, as they can increase the chances of tooth decay. Foods like sweetened juice and drinks, hard or sticky candies, and sticky snacks are some top offenders in children. Provide your child with health snacks like fruit that have natural sugar as well as fiber and other healthy benefits.
Dr. Elliott A. Schwartz, Pediatric Dentist at Toronto Children’s Dentist is part of the Altima Dental Family of Clinics for children’s dental needs.