Preparing your child for their first dentist visit involves answering a lot of questions. Children may wonder what the dentist does, why they have to go, and if it will be painful, while parents may wonder what to do if any dental hygiene issues are discovered. In this post, we will talk a little bit about preparing your child for the dentist, discuss your role as a parent during their first checkup, and answer some of the common questions that kids usually have about the dentist.
When to make your first appointment
It is best to bring your child in for their first dental checkup either by the time they get their first tooth, or by their first birthday. Prevention is always the best approach to dental health and visiting a pediatric dentist in your child’s first year to discuss dietary habits, dental hygiene, and what to expect as your child grows are essential starting points for a lifetime of good oral health and a healthy smile.
Talk to your child leading up to the appointment
While children can’t usually speak before their first birthday, this doesn’t mean they aren’t curious about the world. For older and younger children alike, one of the best ways to prepare them for their first dentist appointment is to start talking about it in the week before the visit.
For younger children, while they can’t respond with words, they still absorb the world around them and studies have shown that talking to babies and exposing them to new words can greatly increase their vocabulary and language skills. So, don’t be afraid to verbally walk your child through what the dentist does and why they will be visiting.
For older children, discussing the dentist with them prior to their first visit allows them to freely ask any questions they may have about the dentist. They may have seen dentists in books or on television and they may make the connection and wonder where they fit in. It is important to stress to them that the dentist is there to give their teeth a cleaning and to look after their smile. Some parents find it helps to tell their children that the dentist is going to give their teeth ‘a bath’ just like kids take when they need to get clean before bedtime.
Apps to familiarize your child with the dentist
Did you know that there are downloadable apps for your mobile phone or tablet that can help to familiarize your child with the dentist in a fun and engaging way? Whether you use iOS or Android, dental apps – such as Tiny Dentist or Toothbrush Timer – can be useful for providing a virtual and interactive visit to the dentist so that kids can experience dental hygiene related issues in a fun format prior to their appointment.
For older kids, toothbrush timer apps can be effective in creating good brushing habits as they visually show how long to brush for, and this helps to avoid one of main brushing pitfalls that children often face – not brushing long enough.
Some toothbrushes are also available with a flashing light inside of them that blinks for the recommended duration of a typical brushing for each jaw (1 minute). The American Dental Association recommends that kids brush for a minimum of 2 minutes, so this would mean once the flashing light cycle ends, it should be reset and the brushing should start again on the other jaw.
What kind of services are offered by a pediatric dentist?
Pediatric dentists are specialists in the dental and oral health of newborns to adolescents. Trained with two years of extra specialization in this area, they are the best choice for your child’s first dentist appointment because they can offer advice and services tailored to younger age groups.
Your child’s first visit to a pediatric dentist will involve a regular dental examination and checkup. This allows the pediatric dentist to look at the health of the gums, the new teeth and to spot any early tooth decay.
Patient education is also important during the first visit and throughout your child’s life. Maintaining a healthy smile and good dental habits are essential and it is important to instill these in your children early on. This is why the first visit to the dentist is just as important for parents as it is for children. Topics to discuss will include diet, how to properly clean teeth depending on the age of the child, if formula or breastmilk is provided before bedtime, and any questions that parents may have regarding dental health and milestones.
For babies who are having trouble nursing, their first visit to the dentist may involve looking for tongue ties and to discuss if the child has trouble latching. Without proper nursing, babies may have weight gain issues and lactation specialists often refer mothers to a pediatric dentist to assess these issues and to discuss solutions.
What if my child has a cavity?
The appearance of a cavity usually indicates poor dietary habits or dental hygiene. If the pediatric dentist determines that your child has a cavity during their first appointment, they will recommend fillings for the cavity to help preserve the health of the tooth.
Cavities do not go away on their own. While regular brushing to remove plaque and practicing good dietary habits that avoid sugary foods and drinks are preventative measures, once a cavity is sufficiently present, it must be dealt with.
Remember, even though baby teeth will eventually fall out, they still must be maintained properly as they help the permanent teeth to come in. In addition, if cavities are left untreated, they can lead to difficulty chewing, infection and further pain. The average age that children finally lose their last baby tooth is at age 12.
In cases of advanced tooth decay with excessive pain or gum issues, pediatric dentists may recommend removing the baby tooth completely. conscious sedation (aka laughing gas) is usually offered for young patients in order to reduce any anxiety during cavity filling or tooth extraction.