Your child’s first dental appointment

5 children sitting on a bench, smiling.

There’s a “first time” for everything. And there’s a first time for a child’s first dental appointment.

Dental professionals always want to make a child’s first visit a thoroughly happy and enjoyable one. In order for that to happen, it is very important – actually it is critical – for the parents (or the guardians) of that child to be aware of some important things.

  1. Children are very smart and intuitive:

While we know that children often imitate the behaviours that they see in their homes, it is important to realize that children also pick-up cues from the language and expressions that they hear.

The best way to inform a child about his/her upcoming dental appointment is to say something like this: “Johnny, on Tuesday we are going to see Dr. Dentist, who is going to look into your mouth and count your teeth. Dr.Dentist is probably going to shine a bright light into your mouth, and use small mirrors so that he/she can see your upper teeth without having to stand on his/her head. You will also probably get a new toothbrush and maybe even a tube of toothpaste at the end of your visit. Going to the dentist from time to time is the best way to keep your teeth healthy.”

And . . . that is enough.

You can ask Johnny if he has any questions, and you should answer them honestly but without answering more than what Johnny asks. You should never use words like hurt, pain, injection, needle, or anything that conjures up negative thoughts in the child’s mind.

If a parent says: “Johnny, on Tuesday we are going to the dentist, but don’t worry it won’t hurt.”  Guess what?     Johnny is going to be a very unwilling patient, and he is going to be expecting pain from the get-go. He probably will also cry a bit.

  1. Children need to establish a relationship with the dentist and/or the dental professionals by themselves, without a parent present:

It is perfectly alright for a parent to accompany Johnny to the examination room. But, after a few seconds, the parent should excuse themself, with the explanation that they have to give the receptionist some additional information, like insurance etc.  That is to let the child feel that the parent isn’t abandoning them.

Far too often, when parents are present in the examining room, the child has difficulty connecting with the dental professional, and we find that parents repeat the directions or instructions (or questions) that the dentist presents, and the child prefers to respond to the parent, rather than the dentist.

  1. Children have their best experiences when they are not having any kind of a dental problem whatsoever:

Ideally, a small 3-year old child might have a clinical examination completed: the teeth counted, the occlusion analyzed, perhaps even a gentle polishing with toothpaste and a rubber cup. That is almost always a fun visit.  In fact, we often refer to these kinds of appointments as a “Happy Visit”.

But, if a child is a bit older, or has a dental problem (like a broken tooth, an injury, a sore tooth, etc.) and some treatment is necessary at this first visit, on an emergency basis, the first visit will probably not be under ideal conditions.  We don’t like to meet any patients, certainly not young children, for the first time, and have to provide a treatment that could be uncomfortable. Because to a young child, that could be frightening – and that is something we really want to avoid.

To Summarize:

The best advice with respect to young children and their first visit to the dentist is:

  1. By the time a child is 3, they should be brought for their first examination.
  2. Never give children juice, milk, or a snack before bed. If a child is thirsty at bedtime, give them only plain water.
  3. Give a child a toothbrush at age 2 or younger, and show them how to brush, even without toothpaste. There are special toothpastes on the market designed especially for children, with the expectation that they will probably swallow most of it.
  4. Make dental appointments for children in the morning, when they are awake and fresh.
  5. A young child’s first visit is best if no other family members are having appointments at the same time.
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