A Positive First Dentist Experience: Tips for Parents
Every Tooth Counts
Did you know that your child’s first teeth are vital to their health beyond their youth?
It’s true. Baby teeth, medically known as primary teeth, may be temporary—but there’s nothing temporary about the impact they have on your child’s lifelong oral health.
As you know, baby teeth help your child to chew and therefore have proper nutrition. They’re also critical for speech development and save space for permanent teeth to come through properly when your child is older. But beware, decay on primary teeth can affect the adult teeth below.
Having a healthy smile also creates confidence, even at a young age. And starting off with a healthy smile encourages your child to continue to maintain their good oral health habits into adolescence and adulthood.
Now is the time to set up great oral health habits that become second-nature to your child for the rest of their life. Here’s what you can do as a parent to create a positive first dentist experience.
When it comes to pediatric dentistry, we have what we call a “rule of ones.” Essentially, as soon as your child has developed their first tooth or has turned one year of age, you should schedule their first dental appointment. This recommendation is the most recent update to the guidelines from both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). It’s important to start early not just so that your child is comfortable with the dental cleaning routine, but also so we can closely monitor the health of your child’s teeth and bite as they develop.
What to Expect
Before talking to your child, know what to expect as the parent. When you bring in your child, the dentist will check the health of their teeth, gums, and bite. Occasionally, a child may require a dental cleaning on their first visit. However, this first visit is essentially a meet-and-greet of sorts. We’ll go over good hygiene habits for your child’s developing teeth and answer any questions you may have.
In the weeks leading up to their first appointment, be open with your child about what they can expect from their time in the chair. It’s important to be honest but not to go into too much detail. Explain that the dentist will be looking in their mouth to count their teeth and check for “sugar bugs.”
The best way to do this in an educational and playful way is to act out the scenario with one another. Play dentist on them a few times and ask if they would like to play dentist on you as well.
Educate with Books
Reading is a great educational tool for children. Highly visual learners, the illustrations help them to understand the world we live in.
Here’s a short list of age-appropriate books you may want to read to your child in the weeks leading up to their first appointment. These are also great to read before all future appointments as well.
- What to Expect When You Go to the Dentist (What to Expect Kids) by Heidi Murkoff
- Show Me Your Smile!: A Visit To The Dentist (Dora the Explorer) by Christine Ricci
- The Tooth Book by Dr. Seuss
Curb Your Own Fears
If you are one of the many adults who have fear or anxiety about going to the dentist, it is important to be mindful of the way you talk about the dentist around your child. Avoid talking about pain, needles, and drills when discussing their visit.
They won’t be encountering these things during their visit. The first appointment is simply to get your child acclimated to a dental routine. We want to ensure the teeth they have are in good health and discuss good oral hygiene as more of their teeth start to develop.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Use positive reinforcement to foster enthusiasm for your child’s visits to the dentist. Don’t depend on the sticker and toothbrush from the office as their reward. Use encouragement throughout the visit and be supportive during the checkup process. Congratulate them on their good behavior. You may even want to plan a surprise reward for your child such as a trip to the park.
A First of Many
The first dental visit is about creating a comfortable experience for your child early on and getting them acclimated to the regular routine of having their teeth examined by the dentist. This first appointment is to help your child become familiar with our team in the office. It’s important to build this rapport to develop a trusting relationship for years to come.
Be sure to take your child’s routine into consideration when scheduling their appointment. Avoid nap time and instead choose the time of day when your child is typically at their happiest.
Give us a call to schedule your child’s appointment. We will be happy to put you on the schedule, and we look forward to giving your child a fun, relaxed, and enjoyable first dental experience.