Preparing your child for their first dental visit

  • Published
  • By Maj. Suzana M. Gjekaj
  • 59th Dental Group
It is no secret that parents these days are busier than ever before. Many are trying to juggle careers, responsibilities at home, and volunteer work that makes it very easy to forget when and how to prepare your child for their first dental visit. Parents actually play a very vital role alongside the dental provider in making a child's first dental visit a positive one.

It is important to note that the parent who takes the child to the dentist should not display any signs of apprehension or of being scared. Children can pick up on the uneasy feelings of adults; a fearful adult or stories of negative dental experiences will cause unnecessary anxiety for your child. It also helps to talk about the dentist in a positive way. Your child should view dentists as friendly doctors who do the important job of keeping teeth and gums healthy.

If there is one thing to avoid it's using words that may trigger dental fear such as "hurt" or "needle".  Feel free to answer any questions your child may have about the dentist but leave out any graphic details. Dentists are trained to explain procedures to children in ways that are often less intimidating. Let them handle the tough questions. Parents should refrain from offering their child a reward for going to the dentist. This enforces the idea that it's a negative event. Development of dental anxiety or fear in childhood can lead to poor oral health and early tooth loss in adulthood.

Fear of the dentist is common for those whose first visit to a dentist is when experiencing a toothache. The pain of a toothache mixed with hearing the noise of a drill for the very first time doesn't make for a great first dental experience.  For small children, it may be difficult to hold their mouths open or sit still for the length of the visit.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children be taken to a dentist as soon as their first tooth erupts or by the age of 1, whichever comes first. The appointment will be short with a quick exam and brushing of the one tooth as needed. Not only will this make for a friendly first experience for the child but it is a great opportunity for parents to ask any dental questions they may have.

As a parent, it is important to brush your infant's teeth and wipe their gums. A huge risk for infants and toddlers is early childhood caries (ECC), a potentially destructive condition of extreme tooth decay that can lead to pain and suffering for the child. In fact, dental caries, which can cause tooth decay, is the "single most common childhood disease", according to the first U.S. Surgeon General's report on oral health published in May of 2000.

The best way to avoid dental caries is to be a role model of health and good dental care for your child. As a parent, you know how impressionable kids can be. They tend to mimic everything you say and do and that includes establishing good dental care habits and eating a diet that supports healthy teeth and gums. Now is the right time to implement an effective daily dental care home routine, or to encourage and improve an existing routine. Just like their kids, parents need to brush their teeth at least twice a day and floss daily. Each brushing session should last for at least two minutes to ensure removal of plaque. Flossing must also be a priority because it represents the most effective method of eliminating plaque and preventing cavities from developing. Aside from daily brushing and flossing, a balanced diet is also very important.

Excess sugars and starchy carbohydrates promote the growth of disease-causing bacteria, plaque, and tartar buildup. However, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean proteins can help protect your child's teeth and help instill dental care habits that will give them a bright, shiny smile for a lifetime.

The key to helping instill good dental care habits is to start early. Let your child choose their favorite color toothbrush and toothpaste flavor. Make this an enjoyable activity by having them listen to their favorite song for two minutes while brushing and not consider it to be a punishment. This, again, will enforce the child's belief that a visit to the dentist is nothing to be scared about.

If you are an active duty member or retiree with a child under 13 years of age, the Pediatric Dental Department at JBSA-Lackland offers screenings the second Tuesday of every month from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., at the Dunn Dental Clinic. No appointment is necessary. Call 210-671-9836 for more information.

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