Carried them for nine months. Brought them out into the world. Got them to meet excited grandparents and the doting aunts. Brought them to the pediatrician for a checkup… What else is there to do? Oh of course! Their first dental visit!
The Canadian Dental Association recommends that children be brought to the dentist within 6 months of the eruption of a tooth or by his first birthday. This visit is important so that we can tell you what and what not to do as far as your child’s oral health is concerned. If your child is older but hasn’t been in to see the dentist, right now is the best time to get them started. Read along for some tips that we hope can help prepare you and your child for the first visit.
- Start early and start right. It is our responsibility as parents to instill in them good oral hygiene practices. How, you ask? Even before their baby teeth erupt, start wiping their gum pads with a slightly wet thin piece of cloth or gauze wrapped around your finger. Toothbrushes for babies are readily available in stores for when their teeth come out. Remember to use only a thin smear of toothpaste, and brush around all of the surfaces of their teeth. This should get them familiar with an oral care routine.
- Put in a good word for us. Avoid associating the words dentist, scare, needle, pain, and hurt. Even if we try to reassure them of the opposite by saying, “It is NOT scary,” or “It won’t hurt,” we subtly give them the idea that it COULD be scary, or that it COULD hurt. Try using positive ideas like, “It is a lot of fun at the dentist’s office,” “They use some very cool tools that they can let you try,” or, “The dentist and her staff are very nice and friendly.” (Those are all true!)
- Don’t use the dentist to avert misbehavior. Please! I don’t know if many parents still use this strategy of stating a bad outcome in order to keep their kids from misbehaving, but I know when I was younger this was widely used: “You better behave or that scary man will come and get you,” or, “You better not eat all that Halloween candy or the dentist will need to pull out your teeth.” Ooh. That one hit a nerve. True, if one’s teeth get decayed so bad, they might need to be pulled, but again that is suggesting that dental visits are something to be scared of. (I’ll refer you back to Number 2 at this point.)
- Try role modelling. Do you have an older child that does well at the dentist? Perhaps a cousin, a close friend, or even yourself. Getting the younger child to observe and see for themselves what takes place during a routine visit will eliminate their “fear of the unknown.” Bring your child to your next visit, and let them meet the dentist and the staff (make sure to bring somebody that could watch them in case they want to cling to you during the procedure and make the experience worse for you both). They’ll be so familiar with the place and the people that pretty soon they’ll be the ones asking you when it will be their turn to go.
- Play dentist. During play time, take turns being the dentist and the patient. Use tools that are safe to put inside the mouth such as a little teaspoon, which can be your pretend mouth mirror, then start counting your child’s teeth out loud. Your child will associate a dental visit with play time, and will surely make the real thing easy for them!
It is certainly hard to predict how younger children would react to a new environment – in this case, the dental office – but the best way to ensure a first visit free of tears is to prepare them for the experience. Don’t wait until a toothache happens before bringing them in. Remember, prevention is always better than cure!