A question that all first-time parents will ask themselves is, “When should my child first see a dentist?”
In truth, they are never too young for their visit. Most dental experts will recommend taking him or her within 6 months of the first tooth coming in. If you miss that point, then the suggestion is that it should be no later than 12 months old.
Your dentist will be able to guide you and give you information relating to a variety of topics of particular interest to parents. These areas will include:
- Baby bottle tooth decay and how to avoid it
- Infant feeding best practices
- Mouth cleaning without the tantrums
- Teething and how to make it easier for your bub
- Dummy habits
- Finger-sucking habits
Can you ever effectively prepare your child?
We would usually recommend that a morning appointment is better. Younger children tend to be more alert and fresher and more open to new experiences.
Once your child is a little older it is appropriate to prepare them for the visit by giving him or her a general idea of what to expect. Be sure to explain why it is important to go to the dentist without scaring them. Build excitement and understanding and the visit will go much more smoothly.
Discuss any questions or concerns that you have with the dentist. Remember that your feelings toward dental visits can be quite different from your child’s. Be very careful not to pass on any fears or dislikes that you have with your own dental visits to your child. It is important that as a parent, you give moral support to your child. You can best do this by staying calm while in the dental exam room. Children can pick up their parents’ anxieties and in turn become anxious themselves.
Prepare the dentist
At the first visit, give the dentist your child’s complete health history. For a restoration visit, you might want to let the dentist know of any potential issues. For example, if your child needs a cavity filled, let the dentist know if your child tends to be stubborn. Perhaps they are defiant, anxious, or fearful in other situations, this could prove important to the dentist.
Watch how your child reacts. Many parents are able to guess how their child will respond and if this is the case you should tell the dentist. Certain behaviours may be linked to your child’s age:
- 10 to 24 months. Some children can get upset when taken from their parents for an examination.
- 2 to 3 years. A securely attached child may be able to cope with a brief separation from parents. In a 2-year-old, “no” may be a common response.
- 3 years. Three-year-olds may not be OK being apart from a parent when having a dental procedure. This is because most 3-year-olds are not socially mature enough to separate from their parents. A knowledgeable and empathetic dentist will know this and will ensure that your child is not distressed.
- 4 years. The majority of children will be able to sit in another room from parents for exams and treatment procedures.
The first visit
Your child’s first dental visit is to help your child feel comfortable with the dentist. The first dental visit is recommended by 12 months of age, or within 6 months of the first tooth coming in. It is likely that it will last between 30 and 45 minutes. Depending on your child’s age, the visit may include a full exam of the teeth, jaws, bite, gums, and oral tissues. These examinations are to check for healthy growth and development. If needed, your child may also have a gentle cleaning. This includes polishing teeth and removing any plaque, tartar, and stains.
Some dentists will show you and your child proper home cleaning such as flossing. Baby teeth fall out, so X-rays aren’t often done. But your child’s dentist may recommend X-rays to diagnose decay, depending on their age. X-rays are also used to see if the root of a jammed baby tooth may be affecting an adult tooth. In general, it is best that young children not have dental X-rays unless absolutely required. Not only can they be damaging long term but they can set an uncomfortable tone for the little one.
The second visit
To maintain healthy gums and teeth it is vital that children should see their dentist every 6 months. Some dentists may schedule visits more often, such as every 3 months in order that the child is absolutely comfortable with a visit. This can be very effective at building confidence in the child. More frequent visits can also help keep an eye on any development problems.
Protect your children’s teeth at home
Here are some tips to protect your children’s teeth:
- Before teeth come in, clean gums with a clean, damp cloth regularly.
- Start brushing with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and a very small amount of toothpaste. The size of a grain of rice is about right and this should start as soon as your child’s first tooth appears. Use a pea-sized dab of fluoridated toothpaste after 3 years of age. This is when the child is old enough to spit out the toothpaste after brushing.
- Prevent baby bottle tooth decay. Don’t give children a bottle of milk, juice, or sweetened liquid at bedtime or when put down to nap.
- Limit the time your child has a bottle. Your child should empty a bottle in 5 to 6 minutes or less and then the bottle be removed.
- Help your child brush his or her own teeth until age 7 or 8. Have the child watch you brush and follow the same brushing pattern to avoid missed spots.
- Limit foods and treats that increase tooth decay. This includes hard or sticky lollies and sweetened drinks and juice. Offer fruit rather than juice but in small quantities. The fiber in fruit tends to scrape the teeth clean. Juice just exposes the teeth to sugar.
Feel free to ask your dentist for advice and guidance if you are concerned about any aspect of your child’s dental health. At Zen Dental Studio we believe that the earlier a child is comfortable in the dentists’ environment the better their chances of healthy oral health.