For many of us, trips to the dentist’s office have been part of our lives since childhood. However, helping children prepare for that first dental visit requires skill and understanding. It’s crucial that children feel safe and comfortable during their time at the dentist, as children who do not receive dental care early in their lives can suffer from problems like cavities, bad breath in children, infection, and worse.
Anxiety and fear of dental treatment can cause children to delay or reject dental care into adulthood—which can come with a host of oral and general health problems. Let’s look at what to do before a dentist appointment for your child so they can have a healthy, anxiety-free relationship with oral care for the rest of their lives.
When to Take Baby to the Dentist
Your baby’s first trip to the dentist might come sooner than you think. Babies will start to develop their primary teeth at around 6 months old, and it’s best practice to bring your baby to the dentist for a checkup as soon as those first teeth start to emerge. Baby teeth are sensitive and have thinner enamel layers than adult teeth, so sugary drinks—even milk!—can cause decay if you are not cleaning your child’s teeth and mouth regularly. During your first dental visit with your child, your dentist can examine the general health of your baby’s teeth and gums, and provide tips on proper cleaning and dietary restriction to ensure healthy teeth throughout childhood.
Some children may develop their primary teeth later in infancy, which is also considered normal. (For an estimate of the general timeline in which babies’ primary teeth emerge, check out our baby’s teeth chart.) Even in these instances, your child should still see a dentist before their first birthday. Visiting the dentist from a young age can help children grow accustomed to receiving dental care, which will help them stay calm and relaxed throughout their treatment, seek out dental care when needed, and learn to view their dentist as a source of knowledge and comfort—even into adulthood.
How to Prepare Your Child for Their First Trip to the Dentist
Making sure your child is comfortable during their first dental visit is important, but every child reacts differently! Babies and young children might just need a hug and some soothing words to help them feel better, but older children might need a little verbal encouragement to help them understand what they might experience in the dentist’s chair. A good start can be to bring them along to your checkups and cleanings and answer any questions they might have afterward. Some of the following activities can help children learn that the dentist is there to help them keep their teeth healthy and strong and there’s no reason to worry about getting treatment.
Roll Play With Your Child
Make-believe can turn getting ready for their first dental trip into a fun game! You can use a chair to make a pretend dentist’s office and use one of their favorite stuffed animals to show them what will happen during their checkup. Or, you can be their “dentist” and count and brush their teeth for them while explaining what you’re doing and why it’s so important for their health.
Schedule an Appointment for the Right Time
Like adults, children have a time of the day when they might prefer to do things. It’s better to pick a time of day when your child has more energy as opposed to close to their nap time or before a meal when they might be tired or hungry.
Bring Your Child’s Favourite Toy
Simple comforts can go a long way in helping children feel more secure at the dentist. If they have a toy or blanket that they are especially attached to, bring it and let them hold it during their treatment. If children are especially anxious, watching an episode of their favorite show on a phone or other portable screen might also help, just so long as it doesn’t get in the way of the dentist or oral hygienist as they work.
Let the Dentist Prepare the Child for the Procedure
Dentists who work in children’s dental care have plenty of experience in helping little ones feel comfortable during their appointment. You can call and ask your dentist ahead of time for any advice on helping them prepare. Your child’s dentist can also speak with them sometime before their appointment, where they can introduce themselves, show them around the office, and explain the kinds of things that your child can expect when they come to their appointment.
How to Find the Right Dentist for Your Child
Another crucial part of your child’s first dental visit is making sure you’re bringing them to the right dentist! Not all dentists have the same areas of expertise, and your child’s first trip to the dentist will go a lot smoother if you find a dental professional who knows how to treat children specifically. The staff at Northern Nevada Children’s Dental and Orthodontics have years of experience working with the specific physical and emotional needs of pediatric patients and can treat the physical signs of decay to keep their smiles healthy while ensuring they have a comfortable, educational experience during their first dental visit.
If you have any questions about seeking dental care for your child, how to prepare them for their first appointment, or anything else, contact Northern Nevada Children’s Dental and Orthodontics to set up an appointment today!