Preparing for your Child's First Dental Visit
By Jana Sinclair and Dr. Laurie-Anne Slater
Being a new parent provides the opportunity to cherish numerous “firsts” in your child’s life – first smile, first step, and the first visit to the doctor. While many events are exciting, some leave parents anxious and unsure. For some parents, a child’s initial visit to the dentist’s office falls into this category. Parents often question when the visit should take place, how to prepare for it and what will happen during the visit. According to Dr. Laurie-Anne Slater, the owner of Westsprings Dental in Calgary, Alberta, “the ideal age for the first dental visit is between two-and-a-half and three years old.” With a little preparation prior to the visit, the dentist will be able to check for cavities”. But cavities aren’t all that parents need to know about their child’s dental health. The initial visit also allows parents to discuss proper mouth care; oral habits, including finger and thumb sucking; fluoride; teething and developmental milestones; and the relationship between diet and oral health.
How to prepare
So what can parents do to prepare their child for the first visit to the dentist’s office? One of the most important steps is to have a positive attitude regarding the dentist and set a good example at home. Try not to say things like "it won’t hurt too much", but rather focus on the fact that the visit will be a fun experience and use positive language like "you will do great – it will be fun and your teeth will be healthy."
Take your child in for a casual visit prior to the appointment. “I encourage parents to bring the young child in prior to their first appointment. Becoming familiar with the office is very comforting for kids” says Dr. Slater. A fun activity such as pretending to be the dentist and counting your child’s teeth will also aid in the preparation for the visit.
Another important way to plan for your child’s visit is to record information that will be important for the dentist to know. Incidents such as falls or trauma to the mouth should be relayed to the dentist. Your dentist may also ask you about thumb sucking activity, frequency of brushing and your child’s diet. Your own dental treatments such as orthodontics are also important to mention, as your child’s development is often genetic. A great way to keep track of this information and make it easy to share with your dentist is to use a tool like HealthPod Baby. HealthPod Baby helps parents capture their child’s most important health information and keep it all together so that it can easily be shared with all your child’s health care providers, including dentists.
What to expect
Now that you have taken these important steps to prepare your child, it’s time to take that trip to the dentist’s office. According to Dr. Slater, the main goal of the very first visit is "to check all of the child's teeth visually and inform the parents about proper brushing and flossing techniques as well as frequencies."
But don’t worry; your child won’t be strapped to the chair while the dentist pokes the inside of his or her mouth. Instead, the dentist may take the child for ride in the chair to show them how it moves up and down, and will show them the light and the mirror. Then the dentist will place a bib on the child’s chest and count the teeth. Some kids may even be brave enough to allow the dentist to polish their teeth. Of course after each visit comes a prize and a sticker which, surprisingly, is a great incentive for children to return again.
After this first visit, the dentist will suggest a schedule of follow-up appointments. The frequency of such visits is usually six months, based on the individual assessment of the child’s dental health. Subsequent visits "include flossing, taking x-rays and applying topical fluoride to protect the surface and strengthen it from the many insults that weaken it (sugar, pop, etc.)" explains Dr. Slater.
Dental care at home
Now that you’re back at home and on the way to establishing life-long dental health awareness, what can you do to ensure your child’s healthy dental development?
For best results, Dr. Slater recommends you:
- brush your child`s teeth twice a day, especially after the evening bottle and meals;
- use less than a pea size amount of toothpaste – just a scrape on the bristles is enough;
- serve sugary and starchy snacks in moderation (candy, crackers; fruit bars); and
- minimize the consumption of fruit juices. If you choose these, water them down.
Don`t forget, your child`s baby teeth are as important as adult teeth. Healthy eating habits, daily cleaning and regular visits to the dentist will help to ensure your child’s primary teeth create a good environment for the eventual eruption of permanent teeth.
With a little planning, some fun role-playing at home and good dental hygiene practiced every day, your child’s first trip to the dentist will be one of the fun “firsts” to remember.
Dr. Laurie-Anne Slater has been a dentist for 14 years, and opened her own practice, Westsprings Dental, five years ago. Dr. Slater has two children. Jana Sinclair is a mom and one of three Calgary women who founded b.l.i.s. (because life is special) Inc., makers of the HealthPod Baby. For more information, visit www.healthpod.ca.