As a parent, there are a lot of exciting firsts that you experience with your child. First steps, first words, first bite of real food and the list goes on. Some less than exciting firsts, but equally as important are first doctors and dentist trips. Most children go into their first appointments ill-prepared. Parents feel the need to keep these appointments a secret and fail to be open and talk about the process. While children ages one or younger may have difficulty understanding it, there are plenty of ways that your child (and you) can prepare for their very first dentist appointment. Read on to learn more about how you can get your child ready for their first trip.
Understand When Is the Right Time
One critical mistake that parents make when planning their child’s first dental exam is waiting until they are older. A general rule of thumb for when you should make their first appointment is either at the age of one, or about 6 months after their first tooth comes in.
Often, parents will wait until the child is old enough to understand what the dentist is or wait until they have had time to develop their dental habits. Dentists recommend that children come in at one year old or younger to help parents develop good dental habits with the child. Dentists also can identify any problems in the mouth that may cause dental growth issues later on in the child’s life.
First Visit Prep
Something new parents should consider is finding a dentist that specializes in pediatric and family dental care. Taking your child to your dentist because it's convenient is a mistake. Dentists who have experience working with children at Dental offices that offer pediatric and family care are the best bet. These dentists will be able to provide your child with a comfortable, fun and age-appropriate experience that will build on a positive relationship with the dentist. The dentist should be caring, compassionate, patient and experienced.
At a young age, children love to learn about their bodies and the things they can do. Begin by teaching and talking about teeth and their mouth. It’s never too early to start, so before their first visit, begin the conversation (and learning) about their mouth and healthy habits. For very young children, having them simply identify where their teeth and tongue are will help bring awareness to that part of their body.
Try to use fun activities for children to become even more aware of their teeth. Singing songs, doing crafts, reading books and poems about teeth, tooth brushing, smiles, and the dentist are all great ways to prepare children for their upcoming visit in a fun and light way.
If your child has older siblings, get them involved. Have everyone brush their teeth together so the youngest child can see healthy habits that are done by everyone in the family. Make teeth brushing fun by adding music, fun songs to sing, colored toothpaste and character-themed toothbrushes. The more exciting tooth brushing seems, the more the child will want to participate and will continue the healthy habits that you instill.
What to Expect at the First Visit
The way the first appointment goes largely depends on the dentist. Some dentists will ask parents to come into the exam room with children and sit on the chair with them, while other dentists will ask the parent to wait in the waiting room so the dentist can build a relationship with the child without the parent being present. It also depends on what you as a parent are comfortable with, but remember, allowing children to do things independently will give them ownership over the experience and a sense of pride when finished.
Dentists will typically use fun or oversized objects to teach your child the importance of a healthy mouth and care for their mouth. Some dentists will use a model of a mouth to show your child how they count teeth and if comfortable, may count your child’s teeth. Typically, dentists will also show your child the different tools used and let them touch them and listen to the sounds they make which helps the experience be a little less scary.
Depending on your child’s age at their first appointment, the dentist may also clean and polish your child’s teeth with a rotary toothbrush and use the straw to suck any additional toothpaste and saliva out of their mouth. If your child is under the age of one, the dentist may reserve this experience for when they are older. Expect this to be included in the appointment around the age of three.
Make sure you ask as many questions as needed at this appointment. Great questions to ask are about a hygiene routine for your child, what appropriate milestones and growth are and what to look for if there is something that goes wrong.
Be sure to schedule a follow-up appointment and keep in touch with your dentist. Just taking your child to the dentist once will not be sufficient. Schedule one to two visits per year to make sure your child’s teeth are healthy, as baby teeth are the most susceptible to cavities and decay.
Continuing the Care
It’s not enough to go to the dentist once or twice per year. Instilling good dental hygiene habits early will only make future visits easier.
Make sure to stop thumb and pacifier sucking early, so there are no problems with tooth growth or formation. Limit the amount of sugary snacks like soda and hard candy that can leave sugar on the teeth for long periods of time and increase the risk of tooth decay. Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on a soft-bristled toothbrush and help your child brush their teeth at least twice per day for two minutes each time. Show your child the importance of a healthy mouth, and they will continue these habits into their adulthood.
If you’re currently looking for a family dentist who offers pediatric dental care in a warm, friendly and caring environment, be sure to contact West Chester Dental Arts and schedule your child’s first dentist appointment with our experienced and compassionate professionals today!