When to Visit the Dentist?
A question commonly asked by parents is: “When should my child first see a dentist”. Usually, a child’s first dental visit should be between 1 to 3 years of age, or shortly after the eruption of the first baby teeth. A frequent mistake is to wait until your child has a toothache to take your child to the dentist for the first time. By doing so, the experience can be very traumatic to your child and these memories can cause a permanent and prolonged fear of the dentist.
The objective of the first dental visit is to be easy and as pleasant as possible. The first dental visit is usually kept very short, (15 – 30 minutes), during which time the dentist will evaluate your child’s oral cavity and discuss with you any relevant oral hygiene instructions. If your child is relatively mature, (3-4 years old) at the time of their first visit, a cleaning consisting of a tooth polishing and fluoride treatment may be recommended. Not only is this a good way to assess your child’s behavior at the dentist, but it allows your child to become accustomed to trusting the dental team.
A common predictor of a child’s behavior is reflected by the parents’ attitude and level of anxiety while at the dentist.
Prepare for the First Appointment
Here are a few tips to prepare your child for his/her first dental visit and help their first experience go smoothly:
- Make an appointment for a time of day that works best for your child. It is not recommended to make an appointment during a child’s nap time, or when they are just waking up from a nap. Every child is different, but make sure your child is well rested and is in a good mood at that time of day.
- Never convey anxiety to your child.Children are very receptive to words, moods, tones, and body language. If a child can sense that a parent is fearful, they are likely to anticipate discomfort and will become fearful. Remain calm and relaxed. Tell your child about the visit, but don’t go into detail. Over preparing, or making the visit seem like a “special event” can create anxiety. Let the dentist explain and answer your child’s questions.
- Watch what you say around your child.Never let your child hear of any past bad dental visits-either experienced by yourself, siblings or their peers. Be aware not to use words like “needle”, “drill”, “shot”, “pinch”, “yank”, “pull”. Never tell your child that something may or may not “hurt”. Your child will form their own opinions about the dental experience, but if you warn or even try to comfort your child using negative words, you have already influenced your child’s opinion. Instead, explain to your child that the “tooth doctor” will count his/her teeth and will help them with the important job of keeping their teeth looking beautiful. Keep it simple!
- Do not be alarmed if your child cries during the first visit.Crying is perfectly normal during your child’s first visit. Remain positive and supportive, and work with the dentist during this time.
- Allow some alone time for your child and dentist.When possible, let your child alone with the dentist and staff. If your child is mature (usually 3 years old and older) it is not uncommon for the dental staff to ask the parent to wait in the reception area. By allowing your child some alone time with the dentist, this will help to create a bond of trust between the dentist and your child. Young children are often fearful at first. Some are afraid of being separated from the parent, others are just shy. Stay strong and be confident. The dentist will create a comfortable environment for your child, one where the child can open up to asking questions, or just talking. The dentist will talk to your child in terms that your child can relate to, as well as help create a positive experience for your child.
The more positive and supportive you can remain before and after your child’s first dental visit, the better. Each time your child visits the dentist, the easier it will be if they had a positive, enjoyable experience the first time. Your child will also be more likely to develop good oral hygiene habits and will want to take good care of their teeth. Developing a good relationship at an early age with the dentist will most often help your children carry these routines well into adult their life.