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13005 Southwest 1st Road, Suite 233, Gainesville, FL 32669

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Make Your Child’s First Dentist Appointment a Happy One

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Taking your child to the dentist for the first time can be challenging for everyone involved. From the shiny tools and bright lights to all the strange faces, there are many reasons why children feel scared at the dentist — a feeling which many adults share. If your child associates the dentist with stress and fear, he might be deterred from practicing good oral hygiene for life. To make sure this important first visit goes smoothly, keep these tips in mind.

Establishing Healthy Habits

Going to the dentist at an early age provides a number of lifelong benefits. Beyond helping maintain a healthy mouth, Happy Kids Dentistry explains that caring for baby teeth aids in speech development, chewing, good nutrition and proper adult teeth alignment. However, many parents are unsure of when they should take their child to the dentist for the first time. In fact, a study by Brush-Baby found that 72 percent of mothers surveyed have never seen any information on gum care for babies. This proves that many parents are unaware of how to care for their child’s oral hygiene before and after baby teeth emerge. Pediatrician Jennifer Shu explains that parents can use a soft, clean washcloth or damp, clean gauze to clean a baby’s gums and baby teeth. When your child is old enough for a baby toothbrush, remember that any toothpaste on that brush will get ingested (“babies don’t spit; they swallow”). To prevent your child from ingesting too much fluoride, Dental Health Services Victoria suggests using a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste starting at 18 months. Children should continue getting help brushing their teeth until age 7 or 8, when their motor skills are developed enough to brush thoroughly enough.

When to Go to the Dentist

According to the Canadian Dental Association, children should go to the dentist six months after their first baby tooth appears (or by their first birthday, at the most). Bringing a child to the dentist at age one may seem early, but as Smile Center for Kids points out, many children have cavities by age two, and more than one in four children have at least one cavity by the age of four.

Preparing for the First Dentist Visit

The best way to prepare your child for their first dental visit is to familiarize them with the idea of dentists and oral healthcare. This will help them feel less stressed at the dentist and will help them associate the dentist with a positive, healthy experience. Angela Conrad of Two Brothers One Journey says that parents can get their children accustomed to the dentist by playing dentist games at home prior to the first visit. Introducing your child to toy versions of common dental tools will help them understand that the tools won’t hurt them. You can also acquire a photo of your dentist before the visit, so your child becomes familiar with who they are and doesn’t think of them as a stranger. Another way to get your kids familiar with the dentist is to read books about going to the dentist. PR and media consultant Cori Howard suggests Just Going to the Dentist by Mercer Mayer and Doctor DeSoto by William Steig. As you prepare your children for the people, places and events that comprise a dentist visit, it’s also important to explain to them why they’re going to the dentist in the first place. Good Morning America digital reporter Nicole Pelletiere says that parents should teach their kids that dentists are a vital part of leading a long and healthy life. “Explain to him that his first dentist visit is important so that he can learn how to keep his teeth stay healthy, white, and strong” Pelletiere says.

toothbrush - first dentist appointment

What Parents Should Expect

Teething is a challenging and painful time for both babies and parents. Kangaroo Smiles, a dental practice in Massachusetts, points out that parents should know what to expect during this time, and that behaviors like biting, drooling and irritability are all normal. Taking note of these behaviors will help enhance your first visit to the dentist, as they will likely ask detailed questions about your child’s oral health. The Columbia University College of Dental Medicine says that parents should expect questions regarding development, teething, biting, gums, cheeks, hygiene practices and oral habits like thumb sucking. These inquires will help the dentist determine your child’s specific needs and prevent issues before they occur.

Preventing Unhealthy Habits

These first visits also help you identify and understand bad habits that may have a negative impact on your child’s teeth. For example, science and parenting writer Melinda Wenner Moyer says that tooth decay from baby bottles is frequently identified at first visits to the dentist. Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by a common habit: putting your child to bed with a bottle of milk or juice. Some parents might use this as a way to comfort their kids and help them sleep, without realizing the negative impact it has on their baby’s teeth. Another common unhealthy habit is loading up on starchy foods like crackers and chips without brushing shortly after. Dentists4kids says that these foods can get trapped between teeth and attract cavity-causing bacteria. Having your children brush and floss 30 minutes after they eat these foods in an easy action that can prevent tooth decay.

first dentist appointment

Making the Most out of Your Appointment

Having a bad experience at the dentist is upsetting for both you and your child, and it can determine how your child feels about dentists for life. To maximize the chance that things will go smoothly, be sure to consider timing. Smiley Family Dentistry reminds parents to schedule their child’s dentist appointment after their child has eaten and not around their regular nap time. This will ensure that your child is alert and energized at their appointment.

Creating a Safe Atmosphere

A child’s feelings about their first dentist trip is directly influenced by their parent’s attitude. 1st Family Dental explains that if parents create a positive and relaxed atmosphere, their children will feel calmer and more comfortable at their first teeth cleaning. According to The Health Journal, it can also help to teach your child coping strategies, like deep breathing techniques. Expressing positive feelings about your own dental experiences can also have a huge impact on how your child feels about the dentist. Using positive reinforcement is another method to help your child feel comfortable at the dentist. Jenkins & LeBlanc Dentistry for Children suggests avoiding words like “painful” or “scary” which will cause the child to associate the dentist with negative emotions. Instead, engage in a fun activity before or after the dentist to help your child associate the visit with positive memories.

Your Child’s Dentist

A key way to help your child feel comfortable at the dentist is to ensure they trust their doctor. 1Dental.com explains that going to the dentist early on can help your child get to know his or her dentist, which establishes trust. Another thing to keep in mind is that your dentist may ask you to sit in the waiting room for at least a portion of the visit. While this may be unnerving to you, Cleveland Clinic says that it is only intended to build a relationship between your child and their dentist. When your child is comfortable with their dentist, they’re much less likely to develop a dental phobia. And if all goes well at the first visit, going to the dentist just might become something your child enjoys. Images by: tel13588006626, Steve Buissinne, renatalferro

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