How to prepare a child for their first dental visit
In addition to taking your infant to the pediatrician, there is another health care professional that infants and toddlers should see but is often overlooked until there is a problem. Who is it? A pediatric dentist! The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends the first dental visit by their first birthday. The American Academy of Pediatricians also recommends an oral health assessment at the same time. Our goal is to ensure a lifetime of oral health and getting an early start is the most effective way to prevent oral disease. Having a pediatric dentist of record early in life is also beneficial or any dental emergency that may happen. Sometimes our little ones fall and end up breaking a tooth or having another dental injury and it is a lot easier to go to the pediatric dentist you already have established rather than trying to find one in a panic.
Having a first visit at a young age can be challenging because at this stage of development they are pre-cooperative. Little ones may also associate it with the pediatrician and vaccinations. Rest assured that early visits are recommended and they will not be traumatizing or hurt your little one.
Here are some tips for BEFORE YOU GO:
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- Choose an accredited pediatric dentist, NOT a general dentist that sees children. Sources to find pediatric dentists are the American Dental Association (www.ada.org) or the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (www.aapd.org).
- Make an appointment to tour the office to make sure that you feel comfortable there
- Provide the dentist with a list of any medical conditions your child has or medications he takes. Any heart conditions will need documentation from the cardiologist as to any precautions that must be taken prior to dental appointments. Have your pediatrician’s phone number available in case the dentist needs additional health information.
- If the first visit is later, such as a toddler, talk with them about what’s going to happen. Again, lay them back in your lap to brush their teeth (morning and night) and also use a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste. Right before the appointment, you can use a flashlight and say that the dentist has a special flashlight to see all of your teeth. You can mention the magical chair that we have that goes back so that we can count your teeth with a special tooth mirror.
- There are some things that are not good to say to your child. For example, “Don’t worry, I won’t let them hurt you or Mommy will stay right here so that nothing bad will happen.” That implies to the child that we would hurt them or that something bad will happen and that is just not the case. Remember, our goal is for them to have a positive dental experience. Also, keep in mind that an infant is expected to not understand the dental visit and they may cry simply because it is unfamiliar. Remember, this is not hurting them. As they become more familiar with the dentist and the office, the visits do get easier.[/list]
Here are some things that happen WHEN YOU ARE THERE:
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- The dentist will review the child’s medical history, social history, dental history, habits, and home oral care routines.
- The dentist will explain each step of the checkup with your child and show the tools used. There may be models or puppets to explain things.
- For infants and toddlers too young to sit in the chair, a knee-to-knee exam will be done. This is where the dentist sits facing you with your knees touching and your legs make a table. Your child lays back with their head in the dentist’s lap. You can hold their hands on their belly and look at them as the dentist checks the teeth.
- As the child is ready, a formal prophylaxis (dental cleaning) will be done using the rotary toothbrush. The low-speed suction (often called Mr. Thirsty) is used to remove extra saliva and toothpaste and the air-water syringe (often called water gun) is used to rinse the mouth. Sunglasses or goggles are used to protect their eyes. Fluoride is placed at the end of the dental visit to prevent tooth decay. Radiographs (x-rays) are taken when the teeth start to contact each other and also if there is any history of trauma to the teeth.
- Prize time! Prizes are a great way to get kids to think the dentist’s office is a fun place.[/list]
Dr Reid is a Pugh Award distinguished board eligible pediatric dentist. She earned her pediatric specialty training through UCLA’s program at San Diego Rady Children’s Hospital. She has also served our servicemen as a Dental Officer at the Marine Corp Air Station, Miramar in San Diego. She’s also mommy to 5 year old Ezra. To follow her monthly blog posts, follow her at PediatricDentistSanDiego.com.