Your Child's First Dental Visit

Your Child's First Dental Visit – The first step to ensuring lifelong dental health

Many parents are unsure when to schedule their child’s first dental visit. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association recommend that the child have his/her first exam by their first birthday. Due to the amount of juice and milk that a baby drinks with a bottle, babies are at high risk for tooth decay.

More than one in four children develops cavities by their fourth birthday. Half of those children have cavities by age two. In addition to cavities, there are other things to consider regarding your child’s oral health. Caring for a toddler’s mouth is different from an older child. Toddlers need to be slowly introduced to a toothbrush and an oral care routine. Many toddlers suck their thumbs, so x-rays are necessary to determine if this habit has produced deformities of the tooth structure. There is a direct relationship between your child’s diet and their oral health. Even the best parents struggle with maintaining a healthy diet for their children among the seemingly endless amount of sugary cereals and soda pop that their children desperately want. Clearly, there are many issues surrounding pediatric dental health.

Pediatric Dentistry

Pediatric dentistry focuses on the oral health of children. Pediatric dentists spend an additional three years specializing in pediatric dentistry, in addition to the four years spent in dental school. This highly specialized program prepares the dentist to meet the needs of children. Pediatric dentists are passionate about providing quality dental care to children in a nurturing and caring environment. Since children’s teeth are new, pediatric dentists spend a fair amount of time focusing on the prevention of tooth and gum disease. Pediatric dentists also undergo ongoing training to stay current on the latest advances and conditions of young children and their relation to the dentistry field. In a nutshell, pediatric dentists seek to make dental visits a positive experience for children and teach children how to develop good oral hygiene.

Choosing a dentist for your child is fairly easy because pediatric dentistry has developed into a niche industry. There is an increasing amount of pediatric dentists that have emerged over the last ten years.

Preparing your child for the first visit

Just as you would prepare your child for the first day of school or a trip to the doctor, you should prepare your child for the first trip to the dentist. One way to do this is to engage your child as you brush their teeth. Use a small flashlight and allow them to look in your mouth. Demonstrate what the dentist may do during an exam to visually inspect the teeth. Explain to the child what typically happens during a routine dental visit. Explain the similarities between your electric toothbrush and the one in your dentist’s office. Encourage the child to ask questions about the upcoming visit. If your child is very anxious about the visit, you can also purchase a home dental cleaning kit, which comes with an instrument similar to the one the dentist uses. Have the child hold the instrument and possibly touch your teeth with it. In the days leading up to the visit, make brushing your child’s teeth an opportunity to again discuss the upcoming visit and create a positive spin on it.

What to expect at the first visit

Pediatric dentists approach dental care in a unique way that makes the child feel secure. They also implement methods that distract the child from the purpose of the visit. Pediatric dentist offices will frequently have television screens in the ceiling that children watch during the exam. The walls are usually painted with murals of well-known characters that almost make a child feel like they are in a nursery or a playroom.

Many times, the first visit consists of a brief visual inspection of the teeth, a few x-rays, and a quick brushing. If your child is unusually anxious or unable to continue with the visit, it may be necessary to reschedule. As the parent, the child will take his cues from you. Be as calm and patient as possible. Short, frequent visits are instrumental in establishing trust with the dentist and the process in general. Children under 2 may need to sit on the parent’s lap, and possibly be restrained during part of the examination.

During the first visit, the dentist will recommend a follow up schedule. The dentist will also offer guidance with challenges such as a child’s refusal to brush their teeth and educating the child on nutrition. Most importantly, the dentist will focus on educating the child about proper oral hygiene and making the visit a positive one.

In-between visits

The time in between visits to the dentist is the time to reinforce good oral hygiene. If a child is reluctant to brush their teeth at night, remind him/her of what the dentist said about brushing after meals. Purchase a fun toothbrush with familiar cartoon characters on it. This will make brushing teeth child friendly.

The first visit is by far the most important one as it establishes a routine that will be followed for years to come. In addition to having a child with good oral health, you will also save money in the long run as the child will have fewer cavities which cost money to fix.