When should your child first see the dentist?
A child’s first few dental visit may be the most important visits of their life. Most adults who have fears about the dentist recall poor experiences from their childhood. This is why we believe it is important for kids to get check-ups and routine cleanings to build a base of positive appointments.
The American Dental Association recommends that a child’s first dental visit happen by age one. We use this visit to create a positive first experience for the child. The exam is usually brief and used to screen children for baby bottle caries. We also take advantage of this time to educate the parents about the dental needs and home care for toddlers. If any treatment is needed, we usually make a referral to a pedodontist (a dentist who specializes in children), since very young children do not generally tolerate treatment well without sedation.
For older children we try to achieve the same thing: positive first experiences. A first visit for kids 3–7 will usually involve a ride in the dental chair, a couple of x-rays, having their teeth counted (checked for disease), and a cleaning. Sometimes this is not the case, and our first opportunity to meet a child is with a dental emergency. For these kids we like to have several follow-up visits, to show that the dental office can be a fun place, and to help establish a preventative dental approach rather than only dealing with painful situations.
Most kids do very well being treated by a general dentist. For a few, a pedodontist is the better choice. The most important thing is to create positive experiences — regardless of where they take place.
Tips for your child’s dental appointment:
- Schedule the appointment early in the day. Avoid nap time.
- Most children are curious and excited about visiting the dentist. Parents who are anxious during their own dental appointment may pass that on to their children.
- Exceptionally “soothing” parents can also relay messages of underlying anxiety.
- Ask your dentist what your child can expect at their visit, and communicate this with your child to encourage understanding and excitement.