Survival Tips for First Trip To the Dentist

By KyAnn Lewis, GalTime.com Sr Editor

I've been going to the dentist for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I loved visiting to the dentist for two reasons - the colorful fish tank in the lobby and the opportunity to pick out my very own toothbrush. Going to the dentist was something we did twice a year and, as a result, I never considered it optional. Even now, I look forward to my dental cleanings because I love that squeaky clean feeling on my teeth that only the dentist can provide and I still like choosing a new toothbrush.

Hoping to instill an appreciation for the dentist in my own daughter, I took her in for her first appointment at age two. She sat still in the exam chair and let the hygienist clean her little teeth! Watching our little girl sit bravely and calmly for that first appointment made us so proud.

WHEN TO TAKE YOUR CHILD TO THE DENTIST

Admittedly, we were a little late taking our daughter in for her first examination as most dentists advise that you begin taking your kid to the dentist when they get their first baby teeth.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that your child's first dental visit occur between the ages of 6 months and one year, because decay can occur with the first tooth

"As soon as a child's teeth begin to erupt, they should start seeing a dentist," says Dr. Tina M. Frangella, D.D.S., P.C. She believes it helps kids get accustomed to the experience of a check-up. "Dentists also evaluate children for common dental issues such as baby bottle tooth decay and any problems with their bite for early intervention."

Related: What kind of toothpaste should my child use?

WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE FIRST APPOINTMENT
"The first visit is all about getting acclimated to the dental office. Even if I only get as far as having the child sit in the chair and allow me to look with a mirror, it's still considered a successful visit," says Dr. Frangella.

Dental insurance provider, CIGNA, says that the first visit is designed for preventive evaluations and for sharing information. The dentist will examine the mouth and teeth for decay and he or she should give you advice on how to properly clean your child's teeth and mouth.

CIGNA says if your child is old enough to understand, you can prepare him or her for their first visit by:

  • Explaining what will happen, but keeping it simple - for example, explaining that the dentist will "count" and "take pictures" of his or her teeth.

  • Don't communicate any fear you have to your child. Don't talk about how the dentist scares you. Don't use words like "shots," "drills," or "needles."

  • Talk to your dentist about any worries your child may have.

  • Look for books that explain what it is like to go to the dentist.

HOW TO TEACH HEALTHY HABITS

"Helping parents promote good oral health for their children is an ongoing challenge as any parent who has ever tried to get their child to brush his or her teeth can attest," says Miles Hall, D.D.S, CIGNA's dental chief clinical officer.

Dr. Hall says the best way to promote a lifetime of healthy habits is by starting early. "The earlier the habit starts, the easier it is to maintain. Also, be a good role model. Be sure your child sees you taking care of your own teeth too."

It's recommended that parents brush their child's teeth until they're at least 5 to 7-years-old. How do you know when it's time to stop brushing for them? "Parents, watch your child a few times to make sure he or she is reaching all the teeth, front and back, and all the surfaces, inside and outside, while brushing," Says Dr. Hall. "One tip is to have a transition, a period of time where you let your child brush first, then you (as parent) can also brush afterward just to be safe."

Don't forget about flossing (even if you personally hate it!). "Developing positive habits and acceptance towards flossing is definitely recommended for children, even if there are spaces between all the teeth. By ages 6 to 9, children can begin to floss on their own," says Dr. Hall.

Related: Tooth Fairy Leaving Less Under the Pillow


HOW YOU SHOULD BEHAVE AT THE DENTIST

In some dental offices, you may be allowed to sit in the exam area with your child. Our family dentist prefers to keep parents in the waiting area. He meets with us before and after the exam, but keeps the exam area for kids only. He says the children respond better without the parents around.

Before you head into the exam room with your kid, Dr. Hall, says you should ask yourself, "Will you be a calming influence or will you project your own fears or apprehension to your child? Do you have enough confidence in the dentist and his or her staff to stay in the waiting room? Will your child give the dentist undivided attention if you are there?"

If you're allowed to go into the exam area, Dr. Hall says, "Try to stay out the conversation and let your child and the dentist connect."

Dr. David L. Raffle, Ph.D., CBIS, says parents should also remember to:

  • Talk openly to the dentist and their child about what will happen during each part of the dental procedure.

  • Talk about things outside the dentist's office.

  • Don't make encouraging statements like, "You'll be just fine" or "This won't hurt a bit."

  • And don't pretend you're not there by reading a book or magazine. Your child needs to know that you're there and available if needed.

If you're afraid of the dentist, the best thing you can do is to make sure not to pass this fear on to your kids. "Most importantly, be a good example. Childrens' fear of the dentist is often a learned one. If you show you are afraid and anxious, it is likely that they will be afraid and anxious," says Dr. Frangella. "When a parent says 'don't worry it won't hurt' that automatically instills the fear that it will hurt," says Jeffrey Gross, DDS, f-- D

Related: Fear of the dentist. is it all in your head?

Dr. Frangella says, "A parent should never use going to the dentist as a punishment, by saying things like, 'If you don't brush your teeth you're going to go to the dentist and they're going to give you a shot'."

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