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First Trip to the Dentist
Although dental experts recommend taking children to the dentist upon the eruption of their first tooth, the majority of parents don’t take them until the age of three. (Yours truly guilty as well!)
A major contributing factor to this conundrum may be that parents worry about this first trip to the dentist. After all, most adults aren’t too crazy about visiting their oral doctor themselves, so it makes sense that they would also hold some aversion to taking their little bundle of joy.
Apply some of the following tips, and you can feel a little easier about taking your child to the dentist for the first time- be it at six months or three years old.
Start at Home
The reason dental professionals want you to bring your child in as early as possible for their first visit is so they can check your child’s mouth for any early problems. It also gives them a chance to give parents basic instructions on caring for their child’s new teeth (yes, you should clean them daily as soon as they start coming in) as well as make sure they’re following vital do’s and don’ts most parents should know (don’t let your child go to bed with a bottle of milk or juice, it causes tooth decay).
Before your baby even gets their first tooth, it’s recommended you wipe their gums with a clean, wet washcloth once a day. This will help remove any harmful bacteria as well as get them used to you putting your fingers in their mouth. As soon as they get their first tooth, you should be cleaning twice a day. For children who cannot spit yet, used a non-fluoridated toothpaste made for babies and toddlers. (However, make sure you’re child is at least drinking fluoridated water, such as tap water.) Although your child will be able to brush their own teeth by the time they’re in preschool, you should continue to do a follow-up cleaning well into their elementary school years, when you’re sure they can perform a thorough job. Also, once two or more of your child’s teeth are touching, you should begin flossing them regularly, at least to accustom your child to the practice.
Keeping up with good dental habits at home will help your child when they see the dentist for the first time. If they’re already used to having their teeth brushed (that would be by you) twice a day and other basic elements of teeth cleaning, it won’t seem foreign to them when the dentist asks them to open wide and attempts to count and clean their teeth.
Talk About It
A great way to prepare your child for their first trip to the dentist is a no-brainer: talk about it! Don’t wait till you’re walking into the office with them to inform them of what’s going on.
Just remember in your conversations to remain positive and relaxed in your descriptions and the words you choose. For example, rather than saying, “It might hurt when…”; simply explain to your child matter-of-factly what the visit will entail. (Which by the way, for a child’s first visit is usually only “counting their teeth” [i.e. checking for cavities] and a brief cleaning.) If you have any phobias about the dentist, don’t pass these on to your children. Stay upbeat and they will most likely have a good first impression of visiting the dentist.
There are many great books available, nonfiction and stories, about visiting the dentist. Find one at your child’s level or one about their favorite character. A nonfiction book about dentists that includes pictures may be helpful for your child to let them see the type of chair they’ll be sitting in as well as pictures of some of the tools a dentist uses.
A word of warning, however, avoid books about a character conquering their fear of the dentist. If this is your child’s fist trip, they have no reason to be afraid yet. Don’t give them any impression that this is the norm. Save those books for a later time- if they’re even needed- if your child is actually facing the same fears as the book character.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Make sure you’re practicing good dental hygiene at home yourself. Let your child see you regularly brushing and flossing your teeth. You can brush your own teeth along with them when they start learning to brush on their own. Your child might even enjoy attempting to brush your teeth for you, as a fun role reversal.
A great way to prepare your child for the dentist visit is to let them watch you first. You may try scheduling your own cleaning a week before theirs, and letting them come to watch you. Or you could even schedule your visit immediately before your child’s. Be aware of your child’s attention span limits when planning what is best for them.
Kids love playing doctor from the earliest of ages, use this to your advantage when it comes to the dentist. Have your child lay down on the floor or couch or in a recliner and “play” dentist with them. You can use a variety of toys for the dentist’s tools. Practice touching each their teeth like the dentist will do when checking for decay. Count their teeth with them. Make a whirring sound as you pretend to polish their teeth. You can even pretend to squirt water in their mouth and suck it back out to prepare them for those ideas. (Although the dentist may or may not do this on your child’s first visit, they are sensitive to the fact that some children are concerned by the noises and sensations.)
Don’t forget to reverse roles and lay down yourself to let your child check your teeth!
- American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry -
The AAPD is the membership organization representing the specialty of pediatric dentistry. Our 6,400 members serve as primary care providers for millions of children from infancy through adolescence.
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- American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry - AAPD Publications