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A visit to the dentist can be a scary thing for children. The odors, the “tools”, the noises/sounds and many other things can upset them. One of the main reasons we see for children being afraid of the dentist may be attributed to them going to their PCP’s (Primary Care Physician) office for illnesses or even just for routine immunizations. The child can get a negative image of a doctor’s office and associate the dentist with that negative experience. They also are coming into a strange/unfamiliar place with strange/unfamiliar objects and strange/unfamiliar people wearing uniforms, masks, and glasses, who want to look into their mouths. This is sometimes the case during a 1st dental visit but as time goes on, the child may become more comfortable with their dental visits and will love to come to the dentist (which is what a lot of our parents tell us at Blue Diamond Dental). If the child’s apprehension persists and we are unable to treat them, we will refer them to a Pedodontist, a pediatric dentist who specializes in the care of infants and children. This is pretty rare in our office but does happen occasionally.
There are several things you can do to prepare your child for his/her dental visit:
- Talk to your child about the visit; explain what will happen (in simple terms); dentist will “count” your teeth and “take pictures” of your teeth
- Don’t communicate any fear you may have to your child; don’t use words like “shots”, “drills” or “needles”;let the staff introduce their own vocabulary to the child to help them get through the visit
- Have a positive attitude when discussing the dentist and use positive phrases like “clean, strong, healthy teeth” to make the visit seem fund and good rather than scary (let the child know that they will be rewarded with prizes, stickers, a new toothbrush, etc.)
- Talk to the dentist about any worries your child may have; work together to limit them
- Look for books that explain what it is like to go to the dentist; these books usually contain pictures to explain what happens; they also let the child see what the inside of the dentist office looks like
- Don’t use going to the dentist as a punishment; Children will associate going to the dentist as negative
Be Prepared for Fussing
It is normal and age-appropriate for young children to cry, whine, wiggle and not want to be examined by a stranger. Sometimes they just outright refuse to even get into the dental chair. The dentist and staff are prepared and experienced to handle this situation. What we don’t want to do is traumatize the child by “forcing” them to be examined or treated. If the visit is just for a routine cleaning and examination, we may need to reschedule the child and try again at a later visit. If notice that the child will not cooperate no matter what or if the child needs immediate dental treatment, we will refer the child to that pediatric dentist. Sometimes it helps to bring your child in to watch an older sibling or a parent getting routine preventative care/checkup (not anything else) before they are seen for their own visit.
Dental visits are necessary to keep your child’s teeth healthy and promote good oral hygiene habits and overall health. Routine visits to the dentist is a necessity, not a choice. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), it is recommended the a child visits a dentist within 6 months of the 1st tooth erupting or by age 1. It is important to keep primary teeth (“baby teeth”) in place until they are lost naturally. Strong healthy teeth are necessary to chew properly in order to maintain good nutrition. The teeth are also involved in speech development. Without teeth, the child may develop speech impediments that will require a specialist in order to correct. Primary teeth also save space for permanent teeth that the child will have throughout their lifespan. Healthy teeth also promote a healthy smile that helps children feel good about the way they look.
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“Many people don’t understand how important their child’s baby teeth are to lifelong health”, says Ken Sutherland, DDS, senior dental consultant at Delta Dental. “The 1st dental visit is a great opportunity for parents to learn how best to care for their children’s teeth”. If taken early (usually before age 2), the child is probably too young to be nervous. Older children may have anxiety at the time of a 1st. It’s also better if you make sure the child is well rested before their visit so that they feel relaxed and comfortable (not around nap time or meal time). Also, if you child has any special/exceptional needs, please let the dentist and staff know ahead of time so that together with you, we can best plan your child’s visit. Let us know what we can do to help your child have a successful dental visit. We don’t know if you don’t tell us.
Let’s make your child’s trip to the dentist a pleasant and enjoyable visit. The dentist office doesn’t have to be a scary place. With your help your child will love coming to visit us for their treatment twice a year. So start them early and continue with their routine care as recommended. And remember, if you are apprehensive about the dentist, don’t let your child know that. Your child can go into adulthood without having a dislike or fear of the dentist.
Children’s Resources on Dental Visits:
Delta Dental’s Children’s Website: mysmilekids.com (stories and fun activities to help children learn about their teeth)
Books: “Spongebob Squarepants’ Behold No Cavities: A Visit to the Dentist”; Scholastic Books
*The information in this post is for informational purposes only. Contact your own personal dentist for advice or treatment.