BY SHELLY GABLE FEB 2017
HOW TO MAKE YOUR CHILD’S FIRST DENTAL EXAM A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE
One of the oft-dreaded experiences of routine healthcare is visiting the dentist. In our world, the sound of a drill, the thought of sharp, metal instruments scraping away at our teeth are things of nightmares, things that cause us to shudder. Yet, establishing good oral habits early on can prevent significant health issues later in life (and help your child to forego some of the scarier procedures).
As parents, we want to set a good example for our children and avoid passing on our personal fears and bad practices as much as possible. A great way to do so is to establish a relationship with a pediatric dentist early on and strive to maintain positive experiences. After all, nothing beats that feeling of having teeth that have recently been brushed, flossed, and rinsed! Good care should start early, and parents should seek to educate themselves as much as possible on appropriate tooth care practices, as well as setting a good example.
If you want to know more about how to ensure the best dental visit for your child in first and subsequent years, read on for expert advice!
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the need for oral healthcare begins at birth. It is recommended that an infant’s gums be wiped with a clean, soft pad, such as a gauze pad, washcloth, or perhaps an infant toothbrush, which resembles a sleeve for your finger (mouthhealthy.org). The ADA states that, “As soon as teeth appear, decay can occur.”
The ADA recommends that children see a dentist by their first birthday. At this first visit, the dentist will explain proper brushing and flossing techniques and do a modified exam while your baby sits on your lap. Dr. Margaret Moore, of Pediatric Dentistry of Central Georgia, adds that, “By the age of two, flossing and regular brushing should be well established. By the age six, permanent tooth eruption will begin to take place. This is the age where the dentist will start evaluating for preventative sealants, orthodontic care, and trauma prevention.”
Building a relationship with a pediatric dentist before your child is old enough to be afraid of such things is important. If you, like many other parents, were not aware of the need to get your child into a dentist earlier, you should really look into setting up that first visit. Drs. Marilyn Murphy and Natalie Cozart at Macon Pediatric Dentistry say that the first visit allows your child to see what the dentist’s office is about, and they will show you how to properly clean and care for your child’s teeth, as well as how to spot any potential issues.
An exam is performed, “as early problems can be caught and treated early,” says Dr. Cozart. “Some children with other issues in the mouth will often see a dentist soon after birth as part of a complex, team-centered care. We personally have seen children as young as a day old.”
First things first—how do you choose a dentist?
Call around. Talk to several practices in the area to find out what their policies are and how they handle that first visit.
Ask your peers. Check with other parents with children the same age, or maybe a little older than your child. Find out what their experiences have been.
Do your research. Spend some time on the Internet looking at dental office websites and reading reviews.
Visit the office. Are the staff friendly and child-focused? Is the office visually appealing to your child? Does the dentist seem kid-friendly? Are parents allowed in the room when your child is being treated? They should be.
Check the credentials. Is the office certified by the ADA, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)? Is it a clean and professional atmosphere?
What are some important considerations for first visits, especially with an older child?
Build Enthusiasm. If your child is older, build up to the visit with enthusiasm using books, short videos, and role-playing. Dr. Moore recommends taking a field trip to the dentist, which she says her office welcomes any time!
Research Together. If the office has an attractive website or Facebook page, especially one with pictures of staff members, spend some time browsing with your child to familiarize him with who he will be seeing.
Positive Talk. Always speak about the dentist in a positive manner to avoid burdening your child with your own issues, says Dr. Cozart.
Be Observant. Once in the office, how does your child respond? Does she seem comfortable with the staff and the process?
Show-Tell-Do. Look for the staff to use methods, such as tell-show-do (wherein your child will be told what will happen and will be shown how it will happen—before it is done).
How do you keep up the positivity post-visit?
Let your child have age-appropriate participation in the whole process, from choosing a toothbrush, rinse cup, toothpaste, and floss to even handing over the toothbrush once you’ve thoroughly cleaned her chompers and letting her have a go at it. Dr. Cozart says a good measure for when to let your child take over the brushing, albeit well-supervised, would be, “Once the child is able to tie his shoes (usually between 6–9 years old), the child can usually handle the responsibility of brushing his own teeth.”
“The most important thing,” declares Dr. Cozart about choosing at-home tooth care items, “is to make sure they are easy to use!” If necessary, consider using a timing app or an ordinary kitchen timer to encourage your child to keep brushing until the timer goes off. A child whose routine is kept simple is less likely to fuss as much. Of course, making a regular schedule and explaining, in child-friendly terms, why keeping your teeth cleaned is so important will also help the process. And, as you can hand over the reins to your child, she will love knowing that she is taking control of her own body and her own health.
Dr. Moore emphasizes the need to look for fluoride in any products used at home. Dr. Cozart adds that it is recommended to use a tiny smear of toothpaste for children under three, and to adjust that amount to equal the size of a pea after your child turns three.
A few don’ts:
Scary Words. Don’t mention words like, “needles,” “shots,” or “drilling,” as those can terrify a young child and create a lifelong fear of dental offices.
Horror Stories. Don’t share any horror stories you might have of your own experiences.
Hard Brushes. Don’t use a hard brush. A brush with bristles that are too firm will cause discomfort for your child, causing unnecessary resistance twice a day. Keep it soft!
With careful planning, proper research and education, and the right tools at home, your child’s first visit to the dentist, regardless of when it happens, should be painless for all involved. I will leave you with this thought from Dr. Moore: “When parents and dentists work together early on in a child’s life to establish healthy dental habits, it will create a life-long, positive relationship with both dental care and the dental team.” #