A common question asked by parents is how to prepare their children for their first dental visit. Usually the child in question is older than the recommended age, or they have multiple teeth already pushing up. The American Association of Pediatric Dentistry states that the early you can bring your child in, either when the first tooth appears or by the child’s first birthday, the better. Not only will this get the child used to the dentist by the time their old enough to understand what a dental visit is, but it also gives the dentist the opportunity to ensure the health of the first dentition and prepare for any future dental issues the child may have. Baby teeth are very important, as they hold places for the second dentition as well as aid in the development of chewing and speaking. So finding any problems before they become extravagant can be a major reason to get your child to the dentist as soon as possible.
Preparing Your Toddlers Mind for the Dentist Visit
If you are planning to bring your child in at a later age than two, there are several things you can do to make the appointment go more smoothly. This is primarily about dissipating fear before it becomes exaggerated. The dentist office is full of interesting and scary tools, lights, and faces.
Practicing brushing or playing dentist is a fun and imaginative way to show your child why going to the dentist is important. There’s also no harm in discussing everything to expect with your child, and telling them that there will be a surprise when the dentist is all done taking care of their mouth.
If it’s convenient, you might also pop into the office before your child’s scheduled visit to let the child get familiar with the office, meet the dentist and his or her staff, and get a feel for the dental sights and sounds before they’re coming from your child’s mouth work. This quick stop might also help you decide whether a new dentist is right for your child. You can observe the way the staff treats your child, and make sure gloves are worn and glasses protect the other patient’s faces. The cleanliness of the office and professionalism of the staff can ease your mind as well as your child’s before the big appointment day arrives.
A Note on Pediatric versus Family Dentists
While a family doctor is often used for all the members of your household, for younger children it may be wise to choose a pediatric dentist instead. Pediatric dentists not only train in dental school but also took an additional 2-3 years of specialized training focused on children. Pediatric dentists specifically limit their practice to children, so their expertise in handling your child’s concerns as well as yours is top notch.
If you need a pediatric dentist recommendation, ask your dentist for a referral; they may know of an excellent local one. You can also call the American Dental Association (312-440-2617; www.ada.org) or the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (312-337-2169; www.aapd.org) for an accredited pediatric dentist close by.
Discuss Everything about the Big Day and Make Sure It Goes Well
The day off your child’s dentist appointment is another opportunity to help your child squash fear and get excited. You can also prevent any mishaps by having medication lists and emergency doctor numbers handy for the dentist, as well as a list of habits that may be affecting your child’s teeth such as sucking, feeding type, and bottle feeding in the crib. Also, make sure to give your child a snack or meal just before coming to the dentist, since the child must wait thirty minutes after the fluoride is placed on teeth to consume anything.
Once there, take each of the following steps cautiously to allow your child comfort and ease:
- Meet or re-introduce the dentist and let the dentist show your child around again if necessary. This may mean holding back from coddling your child and letting the dentist use models or finger puppets to teach your child facts and explain about bacteria and the importance of brushing.
- The dentist will let your child play with and explore all the dental tools and spitting cup so that he or she can use it properly throughout the visit. The dentist should then put on a mask and gloves and count your child’s teeth. Some dentists use you or a model as an example beforehand.
- The purpose of the visit is next. The dentist will let the child see the rotary toothbrush before the dentist uses it to polish your child’s teeth. The sucking straw will pull all the toothpaste and saliva out of the mouth from polishing. Then a tiny brush will be used to apply fluoride. Once applied, the child can’t eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes.
- Picking the prize is the fun part that most kiddos are waiting the whole visit for. If you’re dentist doesn’t have a goodie chest, come prepared with something special. Stickers, finger puppets, mini-slinkies, bouncy balls are a few great examples. Having something tucked in your purse as a distraction should they become uncomfortable during the cleaning is smart too.
How to Tell If Your Child’s not ready
There are a few signs that your child may just not be ready for a dental visit. If at any time during the cleaning he or she becomes nervous and shows signs such as uncontrollable shaking, moaning or crying, or a major gag reflex, it may be time to pack it up and come again later. Most pediatric dentists will also be looking for these signs, and don’t mind rescheduling a few months later.