Baby’s First Trip to the Dentist

One of the biggest mistakes parents make on a child’s first visit to the dentist is transferring their own fears and anxieties to their children, says David Olson, a pediatric dentist who practices in Raleigh. Another common error? Waiting too long to schedule that first appointment.

Start early.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists recommends that children see a dentist by the age of 1 or within six months after the first tooth appears.

“When I start out seeing a 1-year-old, they may cry a little at first, but they are quicker to be in the dental chair and be cooperative when they are 2 or 3 because they become accustomed to doing it,” explains. “A 4-year-old coming in for the first time can be overwhelmed by the whole situation.”

Prep kids with books and Web sites.

Books like The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist and Show me Your Smile! A Visit to the Dentist (with Dora the Explorer) can help your child understand what to expect at a first dental visit. Keep descriptions simple, advises Olson. Tell children the dentist will brush and count their teeth.

Many pediatric dentists have kid-friendly interactive Web sites, so you and your child can take a virtual tour before ever setting foot in the office door.

The First Visit

The dentist will evaluate the health of the teeth and gums and your child’s bite. The child will receive a dental cleaning and a fluoride treatment and learn about proper brushing techniques, diet and hygiene.

For a young child, Olson typically does a “knee-to-knee” exam with the parent facing him and the child’s head in his lap. For the first fluoride treatment, a fluoride varnish is quickly painted on the teeth.

Olson’s office has an open area in the front with several chairs for routine cleanings. Individual rooms in the back are used for additional and more complicated work. Olson allows parents to be present during procedures. That’s not something all dentists permit, so if it’s important to you, ask before your child’s appointment.

Olson’s office schedules appointments to accomodate nervous children and plenty of questions from parents. One frequently asked question is when a child will lose the first tooth, reports Olson. Some children don’t lose teeth until they are 7 or 8 years old, he says, but they still have the same number to lose — 20 in all.

Not all dentists are pediatric dentists.

A pediatric dentist specializes in the dental health of children. Pediatric dentists receive two to three years of training following dental school during which they study the development of teeth in children, as well as child behavior. A pediatric dental office is designed with children in mind and is decorated and organized to meet children’s needs.

Several parents interviewed for this article said their children see the family’s regular dentist and are very satistified. Whatever dentist you choose, be sure office procedure suits the needs of your child. — CP

TOPICS FOR THE FIRST VISIT

• Fluoride supplements and treatments

• The effects of bottles, thumb-sucking and pacifiers

• Proper diet and nutrition

• Dental office visits (usually every six months)

• Brushing and hygiene habits

• Teething and the loss of baby teeth