How Can You Help Create a Fun, Fear-Free First Trip to the Dentist?
Taking your child to the dentist at a young age is the best way to prevent problems such as tooth decay, and can help parents learn how to clean their child’s teeth. After all, decay can occur as soon as teeth appear. Decay in baby teeth also increases the risk of decay in permanent teeth.
Dentists now recommend that kids have their first checkup by their first birthday. The idea of such early dental visits is still surprising to many new parents. However, national studies have shown that preschool-aged children are getting more cavities. More than one in four children in the United States has had at least one cavity by the age of four. Many kids get cavities as early as age two.
Importance of Primary (baby) Teeth
The most frequently mentioned reason for children who have never visited the dentist was that “the child is too young” or “doesn’t have enough teeth yet.”
It’s very important to keep primary (or “baby”) teeth in place until they are lost naturally. Primary teeth are important for many reasons including:
Helping children chew properly.
Involvement in speech development.
Helping save space for permanent teeth.
Promoting a healthy smile.
Prior Preparation for the First Dentist Visit
Before the first appointment, ask the dentist about the procedures of the visit so there are no surprises. To save time and make the first checkup easier, ask the dental office to mail or email you all the forms you will need to fill out. The forms may inspire a list questions or concerns that you want to discuss at the visit.
Patience and calm on the part of the parent and reassuring communication with your child are very important. Be relaxed when talking about the dentist and be careful not to use any negative words. Keep ill feelings in check (if you have any) and let your child enjoy their first dental visit with the same enthusiasm as a visit to Grandma’s (without the candy, of course).
Talk to your child about what to expect, and build excitement as well as understanding about the upcoming visit. Practice brushing with your child beforehand, too, so they will be used to having a toothbrush in their mouth. Learn more about it. Lots of books and online resources are geared toward teaching children more about dental health and dentist visits. Delta Dental’s children’s web site www.mysmilekids.com has stories and fun activities to help children learn about their teeth.
Play around. Take turns being the dentist and the patient with your child. Examine each other’s teeth with a mirror or use your fingers to count each other’s teeth so that your child will be familiar with the feel of a dentist examination. Your positive attitude can help a lot. After all, going to the dentist these days can be lots of fun!
What to Bring
Provide the dentist with a list of any medical conditions your child has or medications they take. Keep your pediatrician’s phone number handy too, in case the dentist needs additional health information. Bring a favorite toy, blanket or other familiar object. This will help your child to know that the dental office is a comfortable and safe place.
What to Expect at the Visit
Your child may fuss during parts or all of the dental visit. Child appointments should always be scheduled earlier in the day, when your child is alert and fresh. However, parents may be surprised at how accepting infants can be when the dentist examines them. They may enjoy the attention and novelty of the visit.
The dentist will want to check the growth and development of your child’s teeth and observe any problem areas.
Expect a gentle but thorough examination of the:
To prevent early childhood cavities, parents first have to find out their child’s risk of developing cavities. They also need to learn how to manage diet, hygiene and fluoride to prevent problems.
But cavities aren’t all that parents need to learn about their child’s dental health. The age one dental visit lets parents discuss:
How to care for an infant’s or toddler’s mouth
Proper use of fluoride
Oral habits, including finger and thumb sucking
How to prevent trauma to your child’s mouth
The dentist will be able to answer any questions you have and try to make you and your child feel comfortable throughout the checkup. Short, successive visits are meant to build the child’s trust in the dentist and the dental office, and can prove invaluable if your child needs to be treated later for any dental problem.
Dental exams and proper care at home are the keys to ensuring pearly whites throughout childhood. Bringing your child to the dentist early and often leads to a lifetime of good oral care habits and acclimates your child to the dental office, thereby reducing anxiety and fear, which will make for plenty of stress-free visits in the future. Most experts recommend that children see the dentist about every six months so don’t forget to schedule your child’s second appointment on your way out the door!
Sources: Parents.com, KnowYourTeeth.com, Colgate.com, DeltaDentalIns.com
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