Taking Your Child to Visit the Dentist

In Impacting Patients, Treatment Plans by Mel Chapman

The thought of taking your child to their first dental visit can be a little frightening. How will they respond? Will you be able to help them feel calm? Will this be a disaster? Every child will react in their own way, but doing some research and preparation can be helpful for both you and your child.

Here are a few things I learned the first time I took my child to the dentist.

When Should a Child Have Their First Dental Appointment?

I was a little surprised by the official recommendation that children should have their first dental visit no later than six months after they get their first tooth. Even if your child is a late teether, they should still have their first checkup by the time they turn one.

Although the thought of taking an infant to the dentist initially seemed a little strange, it made more sense when I realized that tooth decay could begin as soon as a tooth breaks through the gums. The sooner you can discover and address any problems, the better.

If your child is older than the recommended age, don’t let any feelings of regret or guilt hold you back. There is no better time than today to schedule an appointment and get a plan for the future in place.

Finding the Right Dentist

You have the choice of taking your child to a general or a pediatric dentist. The main difference between the two is each provider’s level of training, and the best choice for your child depends on their individual needs.

General dentists are trained to care for patients of all ages. They can be a great choice if your child just needs routine care and you want to have your whole family use the same office.

A pediatric dentist has gone through additional training that enables them to specialize in caring for children. They have a great deal of experience with a child’s unique needs and fears, and their offices are usually very kid-friendly. A pediatric dentist may be the right choice if your child has a complex oral problem or a heightened fear of the dentist.

What to Expect During Your Child’s First Visit

The dentist’s ultimate goal for the visit includes the exam, educating the parent in proper oral care, answering any questions, and building trust with your child.

The typical first appointment lasts about 30 to 45 minutes. The dentist will examine all your child’s teeth for signs of decay, see how their teeth and jaws line up, and check for any concerns in the oral cavity. If your child has plaque build-up, the dentist or hygienist may do a light cleaning.

Preparing Your Child

Read books or watch videos about the dentist.

There is a wide selection of great resources that can help reassure your child that the dentist is a friend and is here to help. Popular children’s characters are often featured in these books or videos, so check to see if you can find one with your child’s favorite.

Talk about teeth and how important they are.

Especially if your child is very young, make the description of what teeth do as simple as possible. Try saying something like, “Teeth help us eat, talk, and smile. We need to take good care of them, and the dentist helps us do that.”

Simply but honestly describe the exam and some of the dental tools.

Let them know that they will sit in a big chair, the room will have bright lights, the dentist will look in their mouth and they may use some special tools to keep your child’s teeth healthy.

If possible, have your child accompany you on your own visit to the dentist.

Ask your dental office if your child can come with you and sit in the chair, see the tools, and ask questions if they are old enough. Having an extra adult come along may be a good idea if you think your child might get bored during your appointment.

Making the Visit as Fun and Relaxed as Possible

Bring along a favorite toy.

A familiar object to hold during the exam may make your little one feel more secure. If this toy is a doll or stuffed animal, they could be the first one to get onto the chair or have their teeth examined.

Try to arrive in plenty of time.

Even though the best-laid plans can often go awry in the presence of young children, do your best to leave the house in plenty of time to make it to the appointment without rushing. A relaxed ride to the checkup can help set the tone for your child to enjoy a relaxed visit.

Additionally, there may be paperwork for you to fill out, and your child may feel more comfortable going into the exam room if they have had a chance to sit down and look around first.

Have something fun planned with your child for after the visit.

This does not need to be an expensive activity or a sugary treat. A trip to the park, watching a special movie at home, or choosing a small toy can all work well.

Avoid making this fun event seem like a reward or bribe. Instead, just present it as something they can look forward to doing after their visit.

As a parent, you have a great opportunity to influence your child’s long-term view of the dentist. By teaching your child that the dentist is a friend and thoughtfully preparing them for their visit, you are doing everything you can to help make this first visit as smooth as possible.

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