There are so many milestones in your child’s first few years of life. First tooth, first haircut, first steps… and yes, first dentist appointment.
You may look at your child’s pearly whites and wonder why on earth they’d need to go to the dentist. But the truth is, the health of baby teeth is essential to the health of your child’s permanent teeth.
Why Baby Teeth Matter
Baby teeth do more than help your child chew. They hold space for adult teeth to come in – if a baby tooth is lost too early, the permanent teeth underneath can drift.
Drifted adult teeth lead to crooked and crowded permanent teeth, which can create a need for braces or even for some teeth to be pulled. Good dental care as a toddler can help protect your child’s teeth from uncomfortable and expensive problems for the rest of their lives.
Baby teeth can also get cavities and children can get dental infections, including gum disease.
To prevent cavities, provide a healthy diet to children and limit sugar and juice. Brush teeth daily, schedule regular dentist appointments, and set the example by practicing excellent dental health yourself.
Your Child’s First Dentist Appointment
Dentists encourage parents to bring children to the dentist twice a year starting when the first tooth appears. Parents who wait too long can be in for a major shock when the dentist tells them there are major issues and cavities.
A child’s first dentist appointment is usually very straightforward. The dentist will talk to your child about how to keep their mouth and teeth healthy, and introduce them to a few of the tools they use regularly during appointments.
The dentist will check all of your child’s existing teeth for signs of decay, examine your child’s bite and jaw alignment, and look at gums for signs of oral issues.
Depending on the dentist, they may also clean your child’s teeth with the rotary toothbrush and apply fluoride. They will also talk to you and your child about how to keep teeth clean and avoid cavities in the future.
Getting Your Child Ready for the First Dentist Appointment
Toddlers can be quite nervous in a dentist’s office – there are a lot of people they don’t know, noisy tools, and strange activities.
Fortunately, you can help make your child’s first dentist appointment no big deal – with a little encouragement and a few prizes. Here’s what you can do:
- Find a Child-Friendly Dentist. Your dentist may be a good option, or not – it depends on how comfortable they are with children and how many they see. It’s important to find a dentist who is familiar with children’s specific dental needs and behaviors. Having staff that can help keep children entertained and calm is vital to having a smooth experience at the first dentist appointment.
- Limit the Details. Depending on your child, you can describe dental health in different ways. You may just say that the dentist is going to count their teeth, or you may talk about eliminating sugar bugs or keeping cavity monsters at bay. However you describe it, limit the details to limit the child’s anxiety about the unknown.
- Introduce Your Child to the Doctor. If you have an older child who can have a dentist appointment just before your toddler, that can help create ease. Regardless, formally introduce your toddler to the dentist. The doctor can show him or her the tools, talk about what to expect, and reassure your child.
- Leave Your Own Fears Behind. Many adults are very nervous about dentists themselves. Around 20% of adults are anxious enough that they only go when absolutely needed, and up to 8% of adults never go to the dentist due to anxiety. It’s vital that you not transfer these fears to your child, who will learn from you that the dentist is scary and should be avoided.
- Give Rewards. Dentists almost always have a box of toys that children can choose from as a prize after the dentist appointment. You can also promise your child an additional prize once they get home if they are well behaved. Of course, this shouldn’t be ice cream, candy, or anything else that might damage their teeth!
As a parent, you should also be mindful of the example you are setting for your child about dental health. If you don’t brush or floss, they won’t either.
If you talk about hating the dentist, they’ll fear dentist appointments also. If you eat a lot of sweets or unhealthy food, they will follow suit.
Helping your child be confident with the dentist has as much to do with how you act than what you say.
Maintaining Dental Health Throughout Childhood
By following some simple strategies, you can encourage excellent dental health in your children from babyhood onward.
First, avoid putting your baby to sleep with a bottle. When sugars from the juice or milk remain on your baby’s teeth and in their mouth for hours during the night, they can eat away at the enamel. This causes a condition called bottle mouth, where teeth are discolored and pitted.
Stop sucking habits as soon as possible. Unfortunately, thumb sucking and pacifiers can cause tooth misalignment.
Use a soft, kid-sized brush with only pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Replace the brush every three months, and replace the brush after the child has been sick. Germs can remain on the brush and cause additional illness.
Help your child with brushing until they are around eight years old. Create a habit of brushing twice a day, once after breakfast and once before bed.
Avoid starchy and sugary snacks. They can stick to teeth, react with plaque, and cause tooth decay. Once teeth touch each other, you can start flossing between them.
Do your best to minimize the swallowing of toothpaste. Part of this is using a very small amount, and part of this is teaching your child the proper way to spit out toothpaste and rinse out their mouth. Avoid giving them water to swish and spit until they are old enough to avoid swallowing the toothpaste.
Ready to Schedule the First Dentist Appointment?
Doug Lewis dentistry is a family practice that offers a full range of dental services. We would love to help your child learn to trust the dentist and start great dental habits.
To set up your child’s first dentist appointment, contact us today!