Your Child’s First Dental Visit
Approximately 2.5 million children less than four years old in the U.S. are diagnosed with cavities annually. In addition, each year over 300,000 children are sedated for dental treatment. Memories of childhood dental trauma have been found to be associated with an increased amount of adult dental anxiety. Imagine how dramatically these statistics could be changed if only simple preventive steps were taken, such as an early visit to the dentist. The exam appointment would be short and very easy for the patient.
In 1986, the Academy of Pediatric Dentistry issued a policy statement recommending a child’s first visit to the dentist should be some time after the first tooth erupts but no later than the 1st birthday. It is important that your child’s first visit to the dentist is a positive experience, and you can help make it enjoyable and upbeat. Your child should be informed of the visit and told that the dentist and his staff will explain all procedures and answer any questions. The less concerning the visit, the better.
It is best if you refrain from using words around your child that might cause unnecessary fear, such as needle, pull, drill or hurt. Dental offices make a practice of using words that convey the same message, but are pleasant and non-frightening to the child. During your child’s first visit, the dentist will examine your child’s teeth, show you proper cleaning techniques, and discuss proper diet to prevent early childhood tooth decay. Crying is a normal reaction to almost any kind of anxiety in a young child. New experiences, strange people and places fit in that category for the very young. Understand that tears are very common and dentists anticipate crying in some small children. The more relaxed the parent and dental staff are at that time, the sooner the child will overcome his/her anxiety. The crying child is often harder on the parents than the child itself. It will go away with time, in some cases it takes several visits, and no harm is done.
Pointers for Parents!
- Bribe your child into going to the dentist.
- Use a dental visit as a punishment.
- Let the child know you feel any anxiety about going to the dentist.
- Let anyone tell your child scary stories about dental visits.
- Use words like hurt, pain, needle, drill, shot, etc.
- Try to make dental visits enjoyable for your child.
- Let your child go into the treatment room alone, if doctor prefers.
- Set a good example! Brush and Floss your own teeth daily, and visit the dentist regularly.
Dentists and their staff can do a lot to protect your child from dental disease. By starting dental visits at an early age and making them regularly, you can help your child have strong, healthy teeth all throughout life.
Written by Capt. (Dr.) Nguyen and Capt. (Dr.) Weber, residents of one-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry, 375th Dental Squadron, Scott AFB.