Cincinnati Family Magazine

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July 15, 2024

Your Child’s First Dentist Visit

Taking your child to the dentist for the first time can actually be pleasant! We asked local dentists how they work to soothe the concerns of the preschool set.


fea_toddler-toothbrush.pngIf you and your family do not have a dentist, you can get a recommendation from a pediatrician, family member or friend. The extra time spent training after dental school is “where a pediatric dentist learns about growth and development beyond the general knowledge of dental school,” says Kurt Swauger, DDS, of Pediatric Dentistry Specialists in Madison and Hendersonville.

Most general dentists serve all members of the family. Before your child’s visit, contact the dentist and ask about what to expect on your child’s first visit. You can also contact your insurance company beforehand to discuss your dental coverage and benefits so there won’t be any financial surprises.

What’s the right age to start?

Pediatric dentist Mirna Caldwell, D.M.D., of Caldwell Pediatric Dentistry in Nashville, TN says the best time to take a young child for a first visit is around age 1.

“An early start to visiting the dentist creates a positive relationship between the child and the dental staff,” says Caldwell. “Also, there’s no doubt that when dental problems are detected early, treatment is usually a lot easier and more tolerable for the child.”

Early visits give dentists a chance to counsel parents about good oral hygiene and nutritional recommendations to avoid decay. New studies show that when dental visits start by age 1, childhood cavities can be cut by more than 60 percent.

Prepare for visit

When you are brushing your child’s teeth, look into his mouth and run your index finger on his teeth and gums. Encourage him to look into your mouth and have him pretend to count your teeth. “As a pediatric dentist,” explains Swauger, “we are trained in behavior management, including how to help a child be more comfortable during his visit.”
Take a trip to the library and ask the librarian for book recommendations on first dentist trips. Read Just Going to the Dentist (Random House Books for Young Readers; $3.99) by Mercer Mayer or Berenstain Bears: Visit the Dentist (Random House Books for Young Readers; $3.99) by Stan and Jan Berenstain.

Jenni Crain’s 2-year-old son was ready to visit the dentist because he had been to the office with his older sister. “For weeks, we told him he was almost ready to go see the tooth doctor ‘just like your big sister!'” says Crain.

At the visit

Schedule the visit in the morning or right after nap time. If you think your child will need extra comfort, bring along a favorite toy or a special blanket. “It is ALWAYS fine for your child to bring a comfort blanket or animal,” Caldwell says. “We love to get to know these beloved friends!” she adds. Pediatric dentists encourage children to get comfortable.

A normal first visit often lasts between 15 and 30 minutes and can include a thorough examination of the teeth, bite, gums and oral tissues to monitor growth and development. Your dentist may take X-rays. You can place your child on your lap while the dentist examines your child’s teeth. If the child is comfortable, the dentist can perform a gentle cleaning to remove any plaque, stains or tartar buildup on this visit.

“The first visit is normally very quick for the child,” says Swauger. “We look for decay and place fluoride varnish. I spend more time counseling the parents on how to achieve optimal oral health for their child.”

“If the child is around age 1, the first visit is about lying in the parent’s lap and riding in the special chair,” Caldwell says. “The pediatric dentist takes a quick look inside the mouth and makes suggestions to help prevent future problems.”

Crain shares that when her oldest and only child at the time was ready to visit the dentist, she relied on advice in a pamphlet that she’d received from the dentist’s office. It encouraged parents to use less scary words to describe what happens at the dentist. “The doctor wasn’t going to check her teeth but ‘count or tickle’ them. They weren’t looking for cavities but ‘sugar bugs,'” says Crain.


You can also discuss fluoride treatments with your dentist. Your dentist can examine your child’s teeth and explain any further instructions on brushing them in case you are missing certain areas in your child’s mouth. He can also provide flossing instructions.
Many pediatric dentist offices have made it their goal to make it the most kid-friendly of visits.

Parents may want to make a plan if a child becomes uncooperative. During a dentist visit, Ashley Gregory’s son clenched his teeth and refused to open his mouth. “I tried to bribe him with toys at Target but he refused. We left,” laughs Gregory. “In hindsight, it was hilarious.”

“If the child clenches or throws a tantrum, it would be something a pediatric dentist sees quite often and would not be at all surprising,” Caldwell says. “We still take a quick look, sit them up, let them pick out a toy and take a chance to talk to the parents about their oral habits. All’s well that ends well!” says Caldwell.

Parents can set up a pre-visit for their child to alleviate any possible fears. At pre-visits, your child can meet the dentist, sit in the “big” chair and look at the tools a dentist uses.

What happens if you find a cavity on the first visit?

“Personally, I prefer not to treat a cavity on a child’s first visit,” says Swauger. “A child’s attention span is short. So, we keep it positive and quick. Then, come back and do it again, still keeping it quick and positive. We prepare a child for treatment using tell, show and do. Tell the child what you are going to do, show him, then do it.”

At Caldwell Pediatric Dentistry, they will probably opt to save a cavity for a follow up visit to the initial visit.

“If a cavity is spotted and it’s just one and it’s quite small, most pediatric dentists will opt to wait to follow up on it in six months,” says Caldwell. “If a cavity is large or causes the child discomfort, pediatric dentists have training in behavior management and sedation techniques so that the cavity is treated in the most comfortable manner possible for the child,” she adds.

Brush, brush at home

As soon as the first tooth erupts through the gums, you can use a soft rag to gently clean the tooth and gums. When the first teeth come in, use a small soft-bristled toothbrush and a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste to brush the teeth. Supervise brushing in young children at night which is the most important time to brush, due to lower salivary flow and higher susceptibility to cavities and plaque from food that stays in between teeth.

As your child gets older, he needs to learn to brush his teeth himself, so allow your child to brush his teeth before bed and then check your child’s work. Parents should be in charge of a child’s brushing until the child is able to tie his shoes or write his own name clearly – usually 5 or 6 years of age.

A child will learn to take care of his teeth as he watches his parents take care of their’s. Bringing your child to the dentist early leads to a lifetime of good oral care habits and acclimates your child to the dentist’s office, thereby reducing anxiety and fear, which will make for plenty of stress-free visits in the future. As a parent, a few easy steps can help your child have an enjoyable dental visit.

Jan Udlock is a home-schooling mom of five and a freelance writer. She loves both jobs most of the time.

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