First Visit – When and What to Expect
According to AAPD (American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry) and Canadian Dental Association guidelines, infants should initially visit the dentist within 6 months of the eruption of their first tooth or by their first birthday. Although this may seem surprisingly early, the incidence of infant and toddler tooth decay has been rising in recent years. Tooth decay and early cavities can be exceptionally painful if they are not attended to immediately, and can also set the scene for poor oral health in later childhood.
What potential dental problems can babies experience?
A baby is at risk for tooth decay as soon as the first tooth emerges. During the first visit, the dentist will help parents implement a preventative strategy to protect the teeth from harm, and also demonstrate how infant teeth should be brushed and flossed.
In particular, infants who drink breast milk, juice, baby formula, soda, or sweetened water from a baby bottle or sippy cup are at high-risk for early childhood caries (cavities). To counteract this threat, the dentist discourages parents from filling cups with sugary fluids, dipping pacifiers in honey, and transmitting oral bacteria to the child via shared spoons and/or cleaning pacifiers in their own mouths.
Importantly, the dentist can also assess and balance the infant’s fluoride intake. Too much fluoride ingestion between the ages of one and four years old may lead to a condition known as fluorosis in later childhood. Conversely, too little fluoride may render young tooth enamel susceptible to tooth decay.
What happens during the first visit?
During the initial visit, the dentist will advise parents to implement a good oral care routine, ask questions about the child’s oral habits, and examine the child’s emerging teeth. First, Dr. Kim or her assistant will take the child for a ride in the chair. Sometimes children are fine to do this on their own and other times the parent will ride along. If the child is an infant, the dentist and parent sit knee-to-knee for this examination to enable the child to view the parent at all times. If the child is older, they may be able to lie in the chair on their own or lay on top of the parent for the examination. If the child is co-operative, their teeth can be cleaned. Fluoride treatment may be recommended depending on the child’s age and oral condition.
It is imperative for parents to continually communicate positive messages about dental visits and to help the child feel as happy as possible about visiting the dentist.
How can I prepare for my child’s first dental visit?
The All Smiles Dental Care Team loves kids and will do everything possible to make the experience positive.
There are several things parents can do to make the first visit enjoyable. Some helpful tips are listed below:
Take another adult along for the visit – Sometimes infants become fussy when having their mouths examined. Having another adult along to soothe the infant allows the parent to ask questions and to attend to any advice the dentist may have.
Leave other children at home – Other children can distract the parent and cause the infant to fuss. Leaving other children at home (when possible) makes the first visit less stressful for all concerned.
Avoid threatening language – Dentists and team members are trained to avoid the use of threatening language like “drills,” “needles,” “injections,” and “bleeding.” It is imperative for parents to use positive language when speaking about dental treatment with their child.
Provide positive explanations – It is important to explain the purposes of the dental visit in a positive way. Explaining that the dentist “helps keep teeth healthy” is far better than explaining that the dentist “is checking for tooth decay and might have to drill the tooth if decay is found.”
Explain what will happen – Anxiety can be vastly reduced if the child knows what to expect. Age-appropriate books about visiting the dentist can be very helpful in making the visit seem fun. Here is a list of parent and dentist-approved books:
- The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist – by Stan and Jan Berenstain.
- Show Me Your Smile: A Visit to the Dentist – Part of the “Dora the Explorer” Series.
- Going to the Dentist – by Anne Civardi.
- Elmo Visits the Dentist – Part of the “Sesame Street” Series.
There are several goals for the first dental visit. The child’s tooth and jaw development will be assessed. The dentist will evaluate the health of the existing teeth, gums and oral cavity. Dietary concerns will be discussed. Finally, the dentist aims to answer questions and advise parents on how to implement a good oral care regimen and will recommend an appropriate appointment interval for the child. Following the dentist’s advice closely will give the child the greatest opportunity to have healthy teeth and gums and avoid the need for restorative treatment.
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s dental visit, please contact our office.