Taking your child to the dentist for the first time may seem intimidating for some. As a parent, you want to protect the dental health of your child and also help your child have a great first experience.
While dental practices sometimes frighten small children, this does not have to be the case. By choosing the right dentist and preparing yourself and your child for their first dental visit, you can help your child form positive dental experiences and set them up for a life of better dental health.
Choosing a dentist
Before you schedule your child’s first dental visit, call around and search the internet to see which dentist in your local area seems like it is the most children friendly. Even though many dentists say they treat patients of all ages, many dentists treat far more adults than children. This means that some dentists don’t have the same experience with pediatric care when compared with dentists who specialize in pediatric dentistry.
Choosing a dentist who specializes in pediatric care can make for a better experience for you and your child. A children’s dentist will be far more likely to understand and better handle a child’s nervousness and make the experience an overall positive one.
How to prepare your child for their first visit?
Once you’ve found an experienced pediatric dentist, it’s time to prepare your child for their first dental visit. Watching films and reading books about the dentist may help your child experience less apprehension and more excitement when the day to visit the dentist has arrived.
According to a study conducted across the US, dental care represents the top unmet health care need for children. As such, it’s important to help your child understand the long-term importance of their teeth. However, remember that children often learn best through play and lively discussion.
Sit your child down and ask them to draw a picture of their mouth. While they draw, ask them to name all the things their teeth do. From helping them talk to chewing their favourite foods and giving them their smile, teeth are very important to a child’s life.
Next, explain that sometimes teeth have problems. Sometimes sugar can give teeth cavities and, just like the rest of our body, sometimes teeth need the help of a doctor. Explain that a dentist is a teeth doctor who is there to keep teeth working properly and that dentists are our friendly and care about our mouths.
What to expect during the first visit?
At your child’s first dental visit, the dentist will examine your child’s mouth and assess how their mouth is developing. They will check for cavities, mouth injuries, and developmental problems.
If your child is unable or unwilling to sit in the dentist’s chair by themselves, the dentist might ask you to sit in the chair and hold them. This can help your child feel calmer and more relaxed.
While you and the dentist can work together to create as positive an experience as possible for your child, remember it’s normal for children to cry or wiggle during their first dental visit.
Maybe offer your child a reward for after the dentist, such as a trip to their favourite park or a visit to their best friend’s house. The more positive you can make the experience, the better.
Prepare the dentist
When scheduling your child’s dental appointment or when first at the dental practice, give the dentist your child’s full health history. You may have to call your general practitioner to request the transfer of your child’s health records.
Also, inform your dentist about any anxiety, stubbornness, or other reactions or needs your child might possess. Remember, you, your child, and your dentist are a team, and together you can work through your child’s trepidation.
At what age should you bring your child to the dentist?
The NHS recommends taking your child to the dentist as soon as their first milk teeth make an appearance. The earlier you can get your child used to the dentist and the sooner you look after their teeth, the better.
Opening up their mouth for the dentist and sitting still in the chair takes practice for a child. At their first appointment, the dentist can also offer you advice on how to take care of your child’s teeth and answer any dental questions you may have.
What is the average cost of paediatric dental care?
It is hard to estimate the average cost of paediatric care, especially as each family’s insurance situation is unique. In addition, you may choose a private dentist over an NHS dental practice, or your child may need specific dental treatments that another child might not require.
Unmet paediatric dental needs have a way of costing more time, money, and discomfort in the long run. There is evidence to demonstrate that preventative dental care reduces later costs and improves oral health.
What if my child has special needs?
If your child has special needs, inform the dentist and the dental practice staff ahead of time. Remember, they probably have a good deal of experience with a variety of special needs situations are more than willing to help you and your child.
Children with special needs may find that visiting the dentist even more confusing than other children might, and that’s okay. If you feel that you and your child may benefit from an appointment with extra allotted time or during the quieter hours of the workday, let your dentist know.
Preparing for future dental visits
After your child experiences their first dental appointment, you both will have a better idea of what to expect. It’s normal for children to feel nervous, but with a little bit of work, your child’s dental experience can be positive.
Remember always to use child-friendly and encouraging language when going to the dentist. Remind your child that dentist’s help their teeth smile brightly, chew their favorite foods, and sing the words of their favorite songs.
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Rachel Wise is the author and founder of Education and Behavior. Rachel created Education and Behavior in 2014 for adults to have an easy way to access research-based information to support children in the areas of learning, behavior, and social-emotional development. As a survivor of abuse, neglect, and bullying, Rachel slipped through the cracks of her school and community. Education and Behavior hopes to play a role in preventing that from happening to other children. Rachel is also the author of Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children: A Guide for Parents and Teachers.
“Children do best when there is consistency within and across settings (i.e., home, school, community). Education and Behavior allows us to maintain that consistency.”