In your child’s life, there will be many “firsts”. From the first step and first word, to the first love and first job, the journey from infancy to adulthood is filled with experiences, impressions and learning. An important first — and one that has a lasting impact on your child’s lifelong dental health — is his or her first visit to the dentist. A successful first kids dentist helps your child form a positive impression that will make each subsequent dental visit much easier for him or her — and for you.
When to Take Your Child to the Dentist
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children have an initial checkup at the dentist’s office by the time they reach a year old, or within six months of the eruption of their first tooth. However, most American children don’t see their family dentist until they are well over 2 years old, far later than is recommended by both dental and medical professionals, according to a recent oral health survey conducted by Delta Dental. The survey reported that, among children who have never visited the dentist or who have not seen a dentist in the last 12 months, the most frequently mentioned reason (62 percent) was that “the child is too young” or “doesn’t have enough teeth yet.” Yet, it is vitally important to have the first dental visit occur by one year of age because dental decay can begin as soon as the first teeth appear, and older children may experience more anxiety than younger children would.
Why Baby Teeth are Important
There are many reasons why it’s best to prevent and avoid decay in your child’s primary (baby) teeth. Keeping primary teeth in place until they are lost naturally helps children with:
- Chewing properly to maintain good nutrition
- Proper speech development
- Saving space for permanent teeth
- Having a healthy smile and feeling good about the way they look
What Happens During the First Visit
Many first childrens dentist visits are designed specifically to acquaint your child with the dentist and the practice. It’s best to schedule your child’s appointment earlier in the day, when he or she is alert and fresh. The visit may last between 15 and 30 minutes, and depending on your child’s age, will usually include:
- A gentle but thorough examination of the teeth, jaw, bite, gums and oral tissues to monitor growth and development and observe any problem areas
- If indicated, a gentle cleaning, which includes polishing teeth and removing any plaque, tartar buildup or stains
- A demonstration on proper home cleaning
- Assessment of the need for fluoride
The dentist should be able to answer any questions you have and try to make you and your child feel comfortable throughout the visit. The entire dental team should provide a relaxed, non-threatening environment for your child.
Preparing for the First Visit
When scheduling the first appointment, ask about the procedures so that you are not surprised during the visit. Be sure to know what you will do if your child is uncooperative. Being calm, patient and reassuring are extremely necessary when addressing your child’s anxieties. Before the appointment, talk to your child about what to expect, help them get excited about the visit, and to understand why it is important for kids to see a dentist. Bring records of your child’s complete medical history. Some other ways to prepare yourself and your child for his or her first dental visit include:
- Lead by example: Take your child with you for your next checkup to see you having your teeth examined and cleaned.
- Help them learn: Read books and access online resources that are geared toward teaching children more about dental health and dentist visits.
- Role play: Take turns being the dentist and the patient with your child. Examine each other’s teeth with a mirror or use your fingers to count each other’s teeth so that your child will be familiar with the feel of a dentist examination.
Finding a Good Dentist for Your Child
Many general dentists treat children. Pediatric dentists have at least two additional years of training beyond dental school. The additional training focuses on management and treatment of a child’s developing teeth, child behavior, physical growth and development, and the special needs of children’s dentistry. Both general and childrens dentists are capable of addressing your child’s oral health care needs: however, if your child has special needs, care from a pediatric dentist should be considered. Ask your dentist or your child’s doctor what he or she recommends for your child.