Parents often wonder when is the right moment to bring the child to its first visit at a dentist. Most commonly the first visit happens when first toothache appears. However, specialists say that it is better to do the first visit before the end of the first year. At that stage there may be only a few teeth in the baby’s mouth, or even none, yet it is a time when parents may have questions, such as how to deal with teething pain, how to pick a suitable toothbrush, how to clean the mouth.
The aim of an early visit is to build trust between the parent, the child, and the dentist. Dentists have their ways of gaining children’s trust and of creating a positive attitude toward medical specialists – through explanations, demonstrations and even games for the little ones. Building such positive relationship will help with future procedures, help set a model of behaviour, and encourage the maintaining of good oral hygiene.
During the first visit, the parent provides details on their pregnancy, the birth of the child and the first few months of the child’s life. Such information helps detect risk factors which may negatively influence the child’s teeth.
What happens during the check-up?
Most commonly, if the child is calm, the check-up lasts 20 – 30 minutes. It is recommended to plan the visit in the morning, when the child is still not tired. If the child is very little, the parent can sit in the dentist’s chair and keep the child in their lap, and if the child is older, the parent may stay in the waiting room. The dentist will show their tools and equipment to the child in an interesting way. The dentist will assure the little one that should it feel uneasy at any point, they will stop the procedure. The check-up includes checking of the gums, teeth, and bite.
Special attention is paid to the diet and bad habits. These include: the use of a pacifier after the age of 1 year and a half; regular snacking on chips, pretzels, candies, lollipops, and other sweets; regular drinking of juice and eating of citrus fruits; night feeding with sweetened milk; continuous breastfeeding; sucking on thumbs; sleeping with an open mouth. The parent is advised how to properly clean the child’s oral cavity.
How to prepare the child for the first visit at the dentist?
Be patient and explain to the child what will happen during the check-up and what the dentist’s cabinet look like. You may even read a book on the topic to or give courage to the child by playing a role-playing game “at the dentist”. Help a doll or a stuffed toy “go to the dentist”. Also, you can show the child how it’s done by checking up its teeth with a toothbrush as an instrument, then switch roles and allow the child to check your teeth. Use positive expressions and avoid words such as “pain”, “machine”, “needles”. Never threaten the child that if it eats too much sweet and does not clean its teeth, it will have to go to the dentist. On the contrary, emphasise that regular visits to the dentist help the teeth stay healthy, white, strong and feeling great. Do not go into too much detail about the check-up itself, so you do not confuse the child. Consciously or not, parents often demonstrate that one visits the dentist only as a last resort, when the pain is too strong, and drugs no longer help. Do not share any past negative experiences with the child or your fear of dentists. Make sure the child can see you brush and floss your teeth daily. The example of the parents is the best stimulus.
We are late with the first visit and the child is already in pain!
The time has come, and you need to make an appointment with a dentist without delay. Medications can relieve the pain and discomfort, but will not heal the condition. Inform the child that it will have to visit the “tooth doctor”. Do not use misleading expressions such as “it won’t hurt”, “you won’t feel anything”. Otherwise, you risk losing your child’s trust. Provide some information about the situation and leave the details to the doctor to explain. During the manipulation try to stay calm, encourage the child and assure it that together you can deal with the problem.
The first visit to the dentist is now done! When should be the next check-up?
It is recommended to visit a dentist every 6 – 8 months. Cavities in baby teeth form considerably faster compared to adults. In babies, enamel and dentin are way thinner compared those in adults. This is the reason why cavities reach the nerve faster and pulpits form (which quickly transition to periodontist and the infection spreads to the bone structures). This is why when there is a high risk of cavities, the dentist may recommend more frequent check-ups (every 2 – 3 months), or the application of a protective layer on the teeth.
In children between the age of 3 – 6 years, the bite is closely monitored and if there is a problem, the best moment to start an orthodontic treatment is discussed. After the age of 6, it is recommended to bring the child for a complete professional cleaning of the teeth and oral hygiene should be monitored closely.