Coping With Child’s First Dental Visit

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Jane and Drew Tamassia love going to the dentist. “It’s like a field trip for them. They think it’s fun,” reports their mother Suzanne. Perhaps it’s words like “tickle toothbrush” and “sugar bug remover” that make these preschoolers giggle. Maybe it’s the mini-movie theater or Disney decorations that draw them in.

“I think the reason they like going is because I started them early and chose someone who knows how to work with children,” says Tamassia, whose own childhood dental fears drove her to a pediatric dentist for her children.

“Getting children in at an early age is key,” says Pediatric Dentist Lawrence Louie. “I like to see them when the first tooth erupts. It gives me a chance to get a good look at the child’s mouth and lets me share oral health care and nutrition information with the parents.”
Jennifer Luzader, a pediatric dental hygienist, agrees. “We recommend children have their first dental exam by their first birthday, and their first dental cleaning by age 2.”

According to Luzader, there are things parents can do to prepare their child for that first visit. “Use books, videos, and role playing at home. Talk with your child – using good, positive terms – and remind him how important it is to take care of his teeth and eat the right kinds of foods.”

That is what Susan Magasiny, mother of two boys, did. “Before Jake’s first appointment, we talked about how the dentist was a doctor for his teeth, and that to keep them healthy, he needed to have check ups. I told him the dentist was going to look at his teeth, count them and maybe take a picture. It was no big deal.”

“I remember sitting at home role-playing with Jane,” recalls Tamassia. “I would say, ‘Open your mouth and let me see your teeth,’ then I would pretend to be the dentist. She liked that.” Role-playing did prepare Jane for that first visit, because when she went she knew just what to expect.

“When a child comes in, we try to make it a fun experience,” says Luzader. “They get to pick out things like fluoride flavor, sunglasses for eye protection, a new toothbrush and floss. Then we go through each step of what we are going to do, first on their fingers then in their mouths. We count their teeth, scale those that are covered with plaque and tartar and then polish. We finish with a fluoride treatment and have the dentist come in for an exam.”

Louie talks children through the procedures, too. “We call it, ‘Tell. Show. Do.’ First we tell them what we are going to do, show them on our hands, then do it – that way there are no surprises.”

Even without so-called “surprises,” sometimes anxiety sets in. Luzader says she uses puppets to calm children because tears are common during the first two to three years of dental visits, a method which works on children 95 percent of the time.

“The goal is to have the child enjoy his first, second, third – whatever visit it is,” concludes Luzader. “Because if he does, he’ll want to return again and again.”

FAQ’S Regarding A Child’s Dental Health

When should my child first see a dentist?
At the eruption of the first tooth and no later than his first birthday.

How often does my child need to go?
Every six months.

When should I first clean my child’s teeth, and what should I use?
Clean your child’s gums right from the start, using a soft cloth. When teeth erupt, use a soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head and water, at least once a day before bedtime.

When can I begin using toothpaste?
Fluoridated toothpaste should be introduced when your child is between the ages of 2 to 3.

How do I know if my child is getting enough fluoride?
Ask your dentist to evaluate your primary source of drinking water. If the fluoride level is deficient, he may prescribe fluoride supplements.

What should I do if my child has a toothache?
Rinse the irritated area with warm salt water and place a cold compress on his face if it is swollen. Give your child a pain reliever, and see a dentist as soon as possible.

– Source: American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry

Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.