your child’s first dentist visit: what to expect

first trip to dentist

Okay here’s a story I want to share before we talk about the ins and outs of your kid’s first dental visit.

Last month, my husband and I took our toddler daughter to Hawaii. While she’s been at the beach before (we live in Cali) and while she adores it, there was something special about being on vacation that she totally felt. When we stepped foot on the sand the first day of our trip, she started running, giddy with excitement. She ran into the shallow waves without any fear. It was amazing to witness her in pure joy, the way kids take to most things.

Later on, she overheard us telling someone how much she loved the ocean when they asked her, “Wow you weren’t scared? That’s great, I am terrified of the ocean.” And bam. She realized she could be scared of that.

The next day, she heard the roar of the ocean and instead of running and splashing in the tide, she cautiously stayed away. She didn’t want to get close.

And I realized, that’s how we create fear in our little ones. They aren’t born scared. We condition them to these things.

So when it comes to the dentist, that’s what I tell my patients. That before you assume that getting your toddler into the dentist chair will involve either a tantrum or bribing him/her, remember that your child doesn’t harbor any of those emotions towards the dentist. After all, they haven’t had a close encounter with getting shots or the drill and hopefully don’t ever have to. For your little ones, their first dentist appointment could be as much fun as going on a ride at the amusement park (we would call the chair a ride at the pediatric office I practiced at, since it goes up, down, back and forth).

And just like the woman who was scared of the ocean, if you are scared or have had a bad experience, instead of saying that to them, try to keep that on the down low. In the practice I was an associate in, we let our kids pick out a movie, let them ride the chair, gave them prizes, had brush songs and so much more. Some kids never wanted to leave, and parents who had fears of the dentist would tell us how blown away they were that their child loved it so much. So let your child enjoy their first visit with the same enthusiasm as a trip (for some satire here) to the candy store.

Here are answers to some questions you may just have:

When should you go?

My rule of thumb with patients on this was 6 months after they get their first tooth, which generally is about a year old for most kids. Of course, if something is discolored, your child seems to be in pain or you are concerned about anything, then go before that. Some people think that just because they are baby teeth, that fall out, then it’s okay to “let it slide.” However, it’s really important to keep your child’s baby teeth healthy since they are what help the permanent teeth come in healthy as well (baby teeth don’t fall out until 6 or 7 years old so that’s a long time!). Plus oral infections could spread to the brain and that’s not a good idea to “let it slide.”

What type of dentist?

Many dentists run family practices which are wonderful. but after working in both (family practice and pediatric) I would say a pediatric practice would be my preferred choice. However, I know plenty of people who take their children to their own dentist. Whether that is a private dentist or a pediatric dentist. They are usually more equipped and prepared to deal with any squirming (or tears) in the dental chair though, and will always have a waiting room filled with fun welcoming distractions such as kids books, toys and games (we even had Playstation). Plus, if your child does need dental work done, better to be where you can discuss options for things like sedation if needed, since only a specialist can provide that.

How can you prep your child?

You should already be brushing your child’s teeth at least twice a day so that’s a great time to go over how the dentist will count and brush his/her teeth when you visit. There are also some fun books that talk about a child’s first visit to the dentist such as (my daughter loves this one) Elmo Visits The Dentist, (free Kindle version), and a fun one about a mouse dentist with different animals that come into his office for a visit, Dr. DeSoto Goes to Africa. My favorite as a kid that was always in my mom’s dental practice, The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist.

What do you bring with you?

Bring your child’s medical history with you, so any information on surgeries, complications, medications, allergies and possibly even vaccine info. The dentist and their staff will ask you about all of this during his/her first visit.

What happens while there?

During the exam, your dentist will check all of your child’s existing teeth for decay and for milestones, examine your child’s bite, and look for any potential problems with the gums, jaw, and oral tissues. The dentist or hygienist may clean the teeth, also. He or she will educate you and your kids about oral health care and hygiene practice for cavity prevention like brush technique and flossing, discuss dental developmental issues, talk about proper nutrition, if there are any oral habits like thumb or lip sucking or tongue thrusting, or if you have let your child drink milk at night from the bottle and has cavities already from that (it’s called baby bottle caries), they would address that all here. If you have any questions such as on teething, the first visit is a great time to ask about that. As your child gets older, you’ll still be needing to take them on regular dentist check-ups to make sure that their teeth are still growing well, and there no issues. However, your child’s teeth may be crooked or are growing at different rates for any reason and may need braces or Invisalign to sort them out. You will be able to ask your dentist all the questions you need answering such as, ‘how do you clean braces?’ and ‘how long Invisalign takes to work?’ so you can keep your mind at ease.

When do you go back?

If your child does not need any dental work to be scheduled, then you can go back at the next recall visit which is generally 6 months unless the dentist has recommended something else for your little one.

So…how was your little one’s first dental visit? Would love to hear below!

-Puja

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