By Dr. Rana, Pediatric Dentist at PureSmile
One of the most frequently asked question I get as a pediatric dentist is, “When should I bring my child for their first dental visit?”
The American Association of Pediatric Dentistry and International Association of Pediatric Dentistry recommend your child should have their first check up by their first birthday.
An early visit gives the dentist an opportunity to provide advice on prevention, oral hygiene and discuss diet, teething problems, and oral habits. It also gives children a chance to become comfortable with the dental environment at an early age.
What to Expect
At the first visit, the dentist will examine your baby’s mouth to make sure everything is growing and developing properly and will check for dental caries, tongue ties, and any signs of injuries.
The dentist will typically tell you everything you need to know to keep your child’s teeth healthy including:
- What kind of toothpaste and toothbrush to use
- Brushing and flossing techniques
- How to relieve teething discomfort
- Which foods and drinks cause cavities
- Answers to questions about pacifier use and thumb-sucking
With an experienced pediatric dentist, the examination and cleaning itself should take just a few minutes, but most of the time is spent on making the child feel comfortable and educating the parents. You should not expect the overall visit to take a long time.
Choosing a dentist
The first step is finding a dentist who likes working with children. Pediatric dentistry is an age-oriented specialty. After completing a five-year dental school curriculum, two to three years of additional rigorous training is required to become a pediatric dentist. This specialized training prepares pediatric dentists to take care of oral health of infants, children and adolescents. Pediatric dentistry, more than any other specialty in dentistry, focuses on primary prevention for teeth.
Most pediatric dentists will aim to provide a fun environment with toys, stickers, TVs, games, yummy flavored toothpaste, and staff that enjoy working with children. When children are having fun, they gain trust in the dentist and staff, and will often enjoy their visits and look forward to their next appointment.
Plan your visit
Book an appointment at the time when your child will be happy and active. Younger children tend to do better in the mornings. Avoid scheduling appointments late in the day or close to nap time. If your child has any special needs, let the clinic know so the dentist can be ready for your needs.
Tips to prepare your child for a dental visit
1. Stay positive about the procedure.
Treat the visit as a routine part of health care. If you are anxious, then the less you say the better. You cannot hide your anxiety from a child (They have special radars for these things!)
2. Read books or watch videos about a dental visit.
There are helpful websites and children’s books that explain dental visits and procedures. My personal favorite books are Just Going to the Dentist by Mercer Mayer, Elmo Visit the Dentist by Dalmatian Press and The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist by Stan and Jan Berenstain. And of course, Show Me Your Smile! A Visit to the Dentist (Dora the Explorer) and Dentist Tripp (Peppa Pig).
3. Familiarize your child with the dentist.
Look at the pictures of the dentist they will be seeing on the practice website and get them familiar with their names and face.
4. Use positive reinforcement.
If your child is afraid of the dentist and they are feeling anxious about their first visit, let them know it is completely normal and offer plenty of positive reinforcement by praising them for conquering their fears and being brave. As a pediatric dentist, we have seen it all, so if your child is not compliant or cries at the visit, it’s completely fine and you should not stress about it too. Luckily, with preparation and sticking to a regular recall schedule (typically every six months), the visits will get easier and more enjoyable each time. We make sure that your child receives a positive experience.
5. Know what to expect for your child’s new dental patient experience.
As mentioned above, first visits are usually simple and only involve a check up, maybe cleaning and fluoride. Perhaps write your questions and bring them so you remember to have answers before you leave the dental office.
Follow Up Visits
Discuss the past visit with your child and remind them of the positive things that happened such as:
Nothing hurt, the toothpaste tasted great, the toothbrush tickled, the dentist counted all your teeth and now we know how many teeth you have, you got prizes and a new toothbrush at the end.
Sedation: Many pediatric dental clinics also offer conscious sedation and anesthesia for specific procedures and when it might help to ease your child’s dental anxiety. The Pediatric Dental Specialists team is trained in administering sedation for children of all ages and needs.
It is possible to help your child love the dentist. With the proper preparation in advance of a pediatric dental procedure, the right support and positive attitude from parents, and the right dentist, your child can overcome their dental anxiety.