How To Prepare Your Child For A Smooth First Dental Visit

You know the importance of dental check-up but don’t know how to prepare your reluctant child for a visit to the dentist. Here’s what you can do to make your child’s dental check-up stress-free.

By Arun Sharma

How To Prepare Your Child For A Smooth First Dental Visit

For most children, and adults, a visit to the dentist isn’t the same as being seen by the family physician. The prospect of a dentist visit may petrify a child. This is usually because of an unpleasant experience at the child’s first dental visit.

When told about visiting a dentist, most children visualise themselves being hurt inside their mouth with menacing-looking tools. The scary visuals make children behave in an uncooperative manner — some throw tantrums and some become aggressive. While some parents give in to their child’s demands and don’t take them to the dentist, some children get away with an incomplete dental exam.

But, it doesn’t have to be so. Parents who understand the importance of regular dental check-ups prepare their child well before a visit to the dentist.

Importance of a dental check-up

The adage ‘Prevention is better than cure’ applies most to our health, especially dental health. Early preventive dental visits promote oral health and prevent the occurrence of most oral/dental diseases.

How important early dental visits are for children can be gauged from what the American Dental Association (ADA) has to say. According to the ADA, “Your child’s first dental visit should take place after that first tooth appears, but no later than the first birthday.”

Early and regular dental visits serve two crucial purposes:

1. They help the child strike a rapport with her dentist and become familiar with what happens during a visit to the dentist.

2. Regular dental visits:

  • Make the child realise the importance of oral hygiene
  • Teach her how to take good care of her teeth
  • Help in diagnosing tooth decay and cavities early on
  • Ensure proper development of teeth, thus preventing complex orthodontic work-ups later on

The first dental visit, follow-up appointment and X-rays

As mentioned earlier, the first dental visit should happen before a child completes one. After the first visit, subsequent dental visits would usually be scheduled at six-month intervals. However, depending on a child’s oral health, the frequency of the visits may be increased or decreased by the dentist.

The dentist may take X-rays for better assessment of your child’s teeth. In young children, X-rays are taken to see if surfaces of the teeth touch each other; otherwise, the surfaces cannot be visualised properly. In adolescents, X-rays are performed if there is a history of dental decay or disease.

However, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), ‘timing of initial radiographic examination should not be based on the patient’s age, but upon each child’s individual circumstances.’ The AAPD guidelines also state that X-rays should only be taken after ensuring proper protection to minimise radiation exposure.

Depending on the condition of the teeth, the dentist may recommend braces or any other orthodontic treatment, fill cavities and apply sealants.

What happens at the first dentist appointment

Most parents don’t know what happens at the first dental visit since this happens after the eruption of the first set of teeth. During this visit, here’s what the pediatric dentist usually does:

  1. Counts your child’s teeth
  2. Checks his gums, jaws and bite
  3. Tells you about baby bottle tooth decay
  4. Advises you on mouth cleaning practices
  5. Tells you about foods to help develop healthy teeth
  6. Informs you about thumb sucking, pacifier use and teething

When fixing an appointment with a pediatric dentist for your infant, you should also look for a suitable time slot. Fixing an appointment between 10:30 and 12 in the morning or between 5 and 7 in the evening works the best. This is because, most infants are active and in good mood during this time.

Before going for the visit, spend some time making a list of all the questions you would like to ask your child’s dentist. And, before the exam begins, give the dentist your child’s health history.

After the first dental visit, depending on your child’s oral health, the pediatric dentist would fix the date of the next appointment.

How to prepare your child for a visit to the dentist

As an infant, your child is too young to understand that she is visiting a dentist. So, hopefully, the visit would go well if you fix the appointment for the time of the day when your little one is usually in her best mood.

Once your child grows up to be a toddler, a little distraction such as a cuddly toy or soothing words during the dental check-up do the trick.

But, when your child is older and begins to understand the world around her a little better, you need to come up with something more meaningful and appreciable. Here are a few things you can do to prepare your child for a dental check-up:

  • Communicate in advance: Things go well with children when they have a consistent routine. However, a visit to the dentist isn’t a part of a child’s everyday schedule. So, prepare your child for this change by informing her beforehand about the impending visit.
  • Engage in pretend play: This could be very effective in helping your child understand what happens in a dentist’s office and how she should carry herself. You can do things like making your child wear a bib, ask her to recline in a chair and open her mouth wide, and hold up a mirror to look inside her mouth and count her teeth. You can also use books or pictures related to dental visits to help your child understand better.
  • Use positive words: Try to describe to your child what may happen during a dental check-up. But, use positive words to explain everything. This makes your child feel more confident. Take care to not say words that can cause alarm like pain, injection, pulling out a tooth and so on.
  • Come up with cues: During an oral examination, your child would not be able to speak. So, how can she tell you that she is feeling uncomfortable and wants a break? Tell your child that she can use signals like raising her hand or patting the chair to indicate that she is feeling uneasy. And, if she does so, you would ask the pediatric dentist to step away for a while.
  • Avoid bribing: Many parents promise rewards to their child in return for undergoing a dental check-up. But, when you think a little deeply, you would understand that bribing your child does nothing to dispel her fears. So, avoid bribing; instead, use positive words to make your child understand that a dental check-up is good for her and is a must.
  • Avoid false assurances: When it comes to a dental visit, parents of a scared child use phrases like ‘don’t worry, it will get over in a minute’ or ‘it doesn’t hurt at all’. But, dental exams don’t get over in ‘a minute’ and there is always a chance of your child feeling some pain. So, avoid providing false assurances.

How to deal with dental anxiety/fear of dentist

Once your child is a preschooler or older, an upcoming visit to the dentist can cause dental anxiety. The reasons for this could be the unfamiliar setting of the dentist’s office, the equipment such as needles and drills, sounds associated with dental procedures, an unpleasant past experience and separation anxiety if the child has to be alone with the dentist.

If your child suffers from dental anxiety, speak to him before the check-up to soothe his fears. But, while doing so, keep your tone neutral and be careful to not show your fear or anxiety, as this may make your child feel edgy and unsure.

Talk about the importance of good oral health and use praise to reinforce good behaviour and compliment your child for being brave.

Nothing is more reassuring for a child than being with parents. During a dental check-up or a dental procedure, your child can’t see you as you would need to step aside to make room for the dentist. However, you can hold your child’s hand or keep talking to him to reassure him that you are with him.

In the midst of all this, one of the most important things to keep in mind is to not feel embarrassed if your child throws a tantrum or suffers a meltdown during his dental check-up. A pediatric dentist knows very well how to handle such situations. The doctor can speak to your child in a non-threatening way and explain what is going to happen to calm him.

Good oral hygiene for kids

Of course, the pediatric dentist is there to take care of your child’s teeth and oral health, but it’s also your responsibility to teach her good oral hygiene. Here are a few things you must do to help your child maintain good oral health:

For infants and toddlers: The Indian Dental Association recommends that parents should:

  • Clean the gums and mouth of the baby with a clean and moist gauze pad after feeding and before bedtime.
  • Wean the baby away from nocturnal feeding once the first tooth erupts, as this could lead to plaque formation.
  • Brush the child’s teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Use a pea-sized portion of fluoride toothpaste to brush the child’s teeth after she turns one. Brush for at least 2 minutes. (Make sure your child spits out the foam and doesn’t swallow it.)
  • Make the child rinse her mouth with water after every meal.

Along with all these, cut back on sugary drinks and snacks. If you have to give your child a sweet snack, offer it at mealtime instead of between meals.

For older children: Once the child is 2 years old, parents should:

  • Encourage the child to brush on her own.
  • Supervise the child while she is brushing her teeth.
  • Once the child has finished, parents should brush her teeth again, especially the teeth used to chew.

Together with emphasising the importance of brushing to your child, you should also buy him the right toothbrush. Also, change your child’s toothbrush every three months or when the bristles appear worn out and discoloured.

Your child’s dentist is your invaluable partner when it comes to taking care of your child’s oral health. So, prepare your child in advance for his dental visits to go well.

About the author:

Written by Arun Sharma on 27 November 2019

Arun Sharma was associated with the healthcare industry before becoming a full-time writer and editor. A doting father to two preteens, he believes in experiential learning for his children. Also, he loves mountain trekking and nature trips.

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