Whether your toddler has a mouth full of teeth or just a few poking through, it’s never too soon to start thinking about how to keep their adorable smile healthy. Sure, baby teeth don’t hang around forever (they generally start to fall out to make way for adult teeth by the time your child is 6 or 7), but it’s still important to keep those tiny teeth — and gums — in tip-top shape while they’re waiting for their grown-up teeth to come in.
The first step in making sure your child grows up with pearly whites is to teach your toddler to brush his teeth at least twice a day. Next, you need to book their first dentist appointment, if you haven’t already done so.
Nervous about this next step? At Smiles for Health we want your child to have a smooth first experience at the dentist. So here’s what you need to know about your tot’s first dentist appointment:
When to go to the dentist
While it might seem soon, you should try to schedule your child’s first dental appointment by the time the first tooth starts to sprout or when they turn 1, whichever comes first. This information is according to the latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). (The previous recommendation was between 1 and 2 years old or within six months of baby getting that first tooth).
Choose the right dentist for your child:
When it comes to choosing a dentist, many people take their tot to the same dentist that Mom and Dad see. This is often a good choice, particularly if your dentist has experience with young children, like the Smiles for Health care team. However, you may also want to consider taking your child to a pediatric dentist — someone who has additional training in caring for children’s oral health. There is no right answer, but comes down to what you are more comfortable with. However it might be nice to take them to a dentist team that you are familiar with.
What to Expect at Your Child’s Dental Checkup:
Expect the first appointment to be short and informal — this serves more like a meet-and-greet for your child and the dentist. Depending on the size and age of the little one, while also factoring in their and comfort level, the parents might be asked to hold the child while the dentist pokes around in their mouth. Or the parents might be asked to hang back in the waiting room or to one side of the chair so the toddler can have some quality time to get to know the dentist and staff on their own.
As for the business of inspecting the child’s teeth, the dentist will check for decay and take a look at the child’s gums, jaw and bite. The dentist or the hygienist may clean your child’s teeth and apply a fluoride preparation (particularly if there is a stain or a high risk of cavities) or they may save this for the next visit.
Chances are, the dentist will talk to you about good oral-hygiene habits — and give you the chance to ask any questions you may have about toddler teething, thumb-sucking, tooth-friendly foods and anything else that pertains to your toddler’s oral health. You may also want to bring a list of your questions to the appointment so that you remember them when you’ve got the dentist’s attention.
How To Make The Child’s Dentist Visit Easier:
Before you assume that getting your toddler into the dentist’s chair will involve either a tantrum or bribery, remember that your child doesn’t harbor any ill will toward the dentist — yet. After all, they haven’t had a close encounter with “The Drill” yet. For them, that first visit could be as much fun as a stop at the local amusement park (the chair goes up and down, back and forth!). So keep your own negative feelings in check (if you have any) and let your child enjoy their first dental visit with the same enthusiasm as they have about visiting Grandma’s (without the candy, of course).
Overcoming The Fear Of The Dentist:
It is common for some little ones to have some anxiety about medical and dental checkups, and these fears are completely understandable. Do your best to be patient with your little one, and let them know that you recognize how they are feeling. To help alleviate any anxiety, here are a few tactics to try before and during the appointment:
- Read up and role-play: Read your child some picture books about visiting the dentist, and encourage your toddler to play “dentist” with a stuffed animal or doll — opening wide, looking inside and giving teeth a polish.
- Use positive language: Explain to your sweetie that a dentist is a doctor who helps build healthy, strong teeth, but avoid getting into much technical detail about the visit, this might confuse them more than it clears up.
- Come prepared: Bring along any comfort toys that they may have to help distract them while in the waiting room and the dentist’s chair.
- Plan a treat: Something as simple as a trip to the playground after the dentist can help your toddler stay focused on the positive.
- Stay relaxed: Your own stress or anxiety about the dentist may be more noticeable than you think, especially for a perceptive and sensitive toddler. If you’re cheerful and calm, you set the tone for your child to be, too.
- Be a good cheerleader: Congratulate your kiddo whenever you can (“Good job opening wide!”), and try to be supportive, not critical, if your child has a hard time cooperating. And remember: Even if he kicks and screams the whole time, it’s nothing an experienced pediatric dentist hasn’t seen before.
How often to visit the dentist
Based on how your toddler’s teeth look, your dentist will let you know when to make the schedule your next visit. Most experts recommend that toddlers see the dentist about every six months — as long as there are no major problems. So don’t forget to schedule your child’s second appointment on your way out the door!