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Patient Education

Children: Their First Dental Visit



Overview

During the excitement of your child's first year of development, you may not be thinking much about his or her teeth. But it's important that your child see a dentist early. Children should see a dentist either within 6 months after their first tooth emerges through the gum (usually at 6 to 8 months) or by their first birthday. This early visit gives the dentist a chance to examine any existing teeth for decay and to look for any potential problems. It also gives the dentist an opportunity to educate parents. Your dentist may talk to you about:

 

  • Good oral hygiene and cavity prevention

  • Fluoride needs

  • Oral habits

  • Preventing trauma

  • Developmental milestones

  • Non-nutritive sucking

  • Oral habits

  • Teething

  • Proper nutrition

 

After this first visit, the dentist will suggest a schedule of periodic checkups. While many children see their dentists every six months, some require more frequent observation.

 

Some health conditions require the child to take antibiotics before and after treatment to avoid certain bacterial infections. In addition, some medical or dental conditions can make the child more susceptible to dental problems, so the dentist may suggest more frequent visits.

 



Preparing For The Big Day

It's very important that your child's first visit to the dentist be a positive one. You play a big part in setting the tone. The best predictor of a child's behavior in the dental setting is the parent's level of anxiety. In most cases, if the parent is anxious, the child is going to experience some difficulty.

 

Here are a few tips to help your dental visit go smoothly:

 

  • Tell your child about the visit, but don't go into details. Answer any questions in a simple, matter-of-fact way. Let the dentist answer questions about dental tools, procedures or anything you're unsure about. Most dentists, especially pediatric dentists, are trained to explain things to children in non-threatening, easy-to-understand terms.

  • Don't tell your child that something may hurt or be painful.

  • Don't tell your child about an unpleasant dental experience you have had.

  • Stress to your child how important it is to maintain healthy teeth and gums, and explain that the dentist's job is to help you and your child do this.

  • Don't make promises that the dentist can't keep.

 

Remember, young children are often fearful. Some are afraid of being separated from their parents. Others are afraid of the unknown. Still others are afraid of being injured. All of this is perfectly normal. A dentist who treats children will have many methods for helping anxious or fearful children learn to understand and cope with the dental setting.



 

At The Office

Typically, the first dental visit is short and very little treatment is done. The goal is to give your child a chance to get to know the dentist and dentistry in a friendly, non-threatening way. During this visit, the dentist will:

 

  • Thoroughly examine your child's teeth for tooth decay

  • Examine your child's gums and soft tissue for disease or problems

  • Evaluate your child's bite

  • Identify any potential problems

  • Show you how to properly clean your child's gums and teeth at home

  • Talk about your child's fluoride requirements

  • Answer your questions or concerns

 

During the first visit, your child's teeth may also be cleaned and fluoride may be applied. The dentist may examine your child while you hold the child in your lap, or your child may sit in the dental chair with you in a chair next to the child. Some dentists ask parents to wait outside the treatment room. If you want to be with your child during the exam, check with the office about their policy before you arrive for your appointment.

 

During the exam, the dentist's movements will be slow and gentle and he or she should speak in a low, calm voice. A good children's dentist will be able to handle all types of youngsters in a friendly, patient and understanding way.

 

It's very important that a parent or legal guardian accompany a child for his or her first dental visit. This person will be asked to fill out medical and health information forms about the child. He or she also should be prepared to discuss all health issues, especially if the child has a medical condition or problem.

 



Calming The Anxious Child


Every child has a unique personality and way of expressing emotions and fears. Some children cry when they're afraid. Others become combative and throw temper tantrums. Dentists use many techniques to get children to cooperate.

 

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry endorses the following behavior management techniques:

 

Voice control — The dentist uses a friendly voice, but it can become firmer.

Tell, show, do — Using simple words, the dentist explains to the child what he or she is going to do, demonstrates how it is done on a doll or another person and then does it.

Positive reinforcement — The dentist praises or compliments the child for good behavior.

Distraction — The dentist uses stories and conversation to distract the child.

Nonverbal communication — The dentist uses body language to reinforce positive behavior and help discourage negative behavior. This may be as simple as a smile or frown on the dentist's face.

Sedation techniques — The dentist sedates a child in order to help him or her relax and be comfortable in the dental setting. This allows treatment to be performed safely.

 

Good oral health is an important part of good overall health for your child. Get your child off to a good start by taking him or her for regular dental visits when he or she is young — preferably by his or her first birthday. These visits give the dentist a chance to begin to monitor your child's oral health and start a partnership with you to keep your child's teeth and gums clean and healthy.

 



Additional Information

 

American Dental Association

211 East Chicago Ave.

Chicago, IL 60611

Phone: (312) 440-2500

Fax: (312) 440-2800

http://www.ada.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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