After rescheduling three times due to the horrific winter weather we have been inundated with over the last month, Big M finally had her second dentist appointment today. She passed with flying colors. And she provided quite the entertainment to the hygienist, when she wanted to take over all the controls, from the brush to the suction and water sprayer. Lil’ M was more scared just being at the dentist’s office than her sister, and she had been there once before for my appointment last month. It was a good reminder to me that I need to prepare her for her first dentist visit soon.
Big M, 3 years, at 1st Dentist Visit
Preparing for First Dentist Visit
How do you know when to take your child to the dentist for the first time, and where do you take them? If sitting in the dentist’s chair makes you uneasy, how can you make it less uncomfortable for your son or daughter?
When to take them
I had my first regularly scheduled dental cleaning after Big M was born when she was about 3 months old. The dentist always comes in at the end to take a peek, and asked if I had any questions. I asked him when Big M needed to come in to see him (mind you, she was 3 months old and had no teeth to speak of!). I have horrible teeth in my family, and I wanted to make sure Big M was on the path to healthy teeth and gums from the start. He told me not to worry, that unless I had pressing concerns, he assured me he didn’t need to see her until she turned 3.
Where to take them
There are pediatric dentists out there, and you can certainly take your child to see one. But most children are seen by general dentists who practice family dentistry. The benefits of this are twofold: one, you can bring your child to your dentist, who is already familiar with your family history, and two, you already have a comfort-level and relationship with them. As preparation for their own visit, you can bring them with you to your regularly scheduled cleaning visit so they can see the office, hear the sounds, and see what happens at the dentist.
How to prepare them
While your child may not need to see the dentist before 3 years old, it is critical to establish healthy dental hygiene habits early. You should brush your child’s teeth from the moment they have any, and you can even get them accustomed to it, but brushing their gums with a soft finger tip brush even before they have teeth. Make brushing teeth part of the daily routine – when they get ready for the day in the morning and when they get ready for bed at night.
As they get older, they may be more reluctant to let you brush for them. Lil’ M, at 18 months, already clamps her mouth shut and only wants to do it herself. Two tips to help them brush properly when they are reluctant to let you… First, buy two tooth brushes. Give one to them, and while they are brushing, use the other to get in there yourself. This way, they still feel like they are doing it themselves, and/or they are distracted enough to let you brush as well. Two, brush with them. As Big M has gotten older, she is very adamant about doing it herself. Around 2 years old, she started telling me, “Teeth too!” So, I started brushing alongside her every night – she would watch me in the mirror and imitate my motions, brushing in a circular motion, and making sure to get those way back teeth too.
Talk about it
Before their first dentist visit, talk about going to the dentist. Tell them how a dentist is a doctor for teeth, and you have to go regularly for check-ups and to have your teeth cleaned, just like they go to the pediatrician for check-ups. You can assure them there won’t be any shots at their dentist appointment. Outline what the dentist and hygienist will do at their first appointment.
Most first visits are designed to get the child comfortable with coming to the dentist – they will not force specific procedures on your child if you child is not comfortable. They will show them and let them handle all the equipment, and count their teeth. If your child seems okay with those steps, they will clean their teeth, the dentist will inspect their mouth for any issues that might require further action, and last, they may paint on a fluoride treatment. You can call your dentist to ask exactly what they do with young patients, so you can adequately prepare your child.
Take them to your appointment
While it may likely be more convenient to leave your child with a babysitter or your spouse while you go to the dentist, for the visit just before their first trip, bring them with you. Let them see the office, hear all the new sounds, meet the hygienist, dentist and office staff. Let them see you sit in the fancy chair, with the light shining on your face, and other people’s hands in your mouth. Basically, let them watch the process to familiarize themselves with what will happen. Often, children are scared of the unknown, and rightfully so. By familiarizing them with the place, people and activities before they go themselves, you will help alleviate the fear of the unknown.
Be sure to be a good patient. Many adults dislike going to the dentist, and your child will sense any discomfort you exhibit. Take them to a routine cleaning appointment – it’s best not to bring them to your root canal or cavity filling, where shots and drilling are involved. Lastly, if you do not feel comfortable with your dentist, he may not be the right fit for you and your family, and it may be worth looking at other providers in your area for both you and your child to visit.
The first visit
For Big M’s first visit, I scheduled her appointment right after mine. She had already been to an appointment with me before, and now she got to watch another one right before it was her turn in the chair. She got a little antsy after the first 10 minutes or so, and since my husband and his family have been going to our dentist for 20+ years, the women at the front desk are like family, and happily offered to watch her while she played with their toys in the waiting room until it was her turn.
She was happy to climb in the chair and put on the bib. She even thought the light was pretty cool. However, she did not like when the fancy chair started to lean back and became scared. So for the rest of the appointment, she sat on my lap. But after that, she was fine and let them do a full cleaning.
We pass the dentist office on the way to preschool twice a week, and despite having only been there a few times, she points it out every time. For her second visit today, she was quite excited to go. This time, she sat in the seat all by herself, and pretty much wanted to take over entirely. I can’t get over how much older she looks after just 6 months!
Hopefully, these tips to prepare your child helps calm their fears (and maybe yours too) of visiting the dentist. Has your child been to the dentist yet? Do you go to the dentist regularly, every 6 months? Share your pictures of your first child’s first visit to the dentist on Instagram – use #PGPB1sts or tag us @PGPBMeghan.
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