Most parents don’t realize that your child’s first visit to the dentist should be within 6 months of their first tooth coming in or at one year of age at the latest. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AADP) recommends that children start visiting their dentist no later than their first birthday.
A lot of parents are surprised by this, mostly because their pediatrician or friends may tell them that 3 years of age is the magic number. By the time the child is 3, they have had a full complement of 20 teeth for over a year and there could be any number of undiagnosed problems such as tongue tie, caries, congenitally missing or malformed teeth and malocclusions. With all children, the goal should be to make them as comfortable as possible, because this will set their expectations for dental visits possibly throughout their life.
By having check ups at your family dentist regularly from one year of age, we can monitor the development of the teeth and jaws and recognize a dental anomaly before it becomes a problem, making the solution a lot easier on everyone, especially the child.
Your child’s first visit to the dentist shouldn’t be scary or stressful. In fact, it should be fun. The earlier you bring them in and get them accustomed to the office, the staff and the equipment, the better adjusted they will be. The first visit might even just be a ride in the chair sitting in mom’s lap or looking around and touching some of the instruments. I usually have the parents bring their child to one of their recare appointments to accomplish this. The goal is to nurture a confident, happy child that is conscientious about their oral hygiene and health for the rest of their life.
Here are some tips for managing a child’s dental appointment
1. Prepare your child at home:
If you are fearful or anxious about going to the dentist yourself, don’t impose that fear on the child. Remember, they do not have any knowledge at all. If you say, ‘Don’t be scared’….they wonder what there is to be scared of. For them, it could be as much fun as going to the park. Treat is just like any other outing.
2. Read books and watch videos prior to their first visit:
There are so many great resources online.
Brush their teeth with them and let them help you brush yours. Buy them a fun toothbrush with their favorite character or color. Sing a song while they brush. Raffi, the Canadian children’s artist, has one of my favorites. There are also some great apps that you can put on an iPad for them to view.
3. If they have any kind of anxiety about going, don’t discount it:
The unknown is scary for a lot of kids. Talk to your dentist and staff ahead of time to let them know so that the appointment can be tailored to accommodate these fears and/or hesitations.
4. Give them praise and rewards…not bribes.
Reward them and encourage them for their behavior….opening so wide, listening so well, sitting so still and helping count their teeth. This builds their confidence and engages them in their oral health.
5. Bring them in the morning, shortly after breakfast.
They are more rested and alert. They are more likely to get cranky and uncooperative in the afternoon especially if they have missed their nap.
And finally, don’t get discouraged if the first visit isn’t the perfect scrap book photo op…sometimes getting to know the child in the waiting room and just peaking in their mouth is a success story. Every child is different and needs to be treated differently.
People often compare negative experiences with going to the dentist, but it doesn’t have to be this way. If you make the experience pleasant while they’re young, visiting the dentist can and should be positive for a lifetime.