Your Toddler's First Trip to the Dentist

First visit to dentistby Teresa J. Mitchell

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry's slogan, "first visit by first birthday," sums it up.

They suggest your tot visit a pediatric dentist when the first tooth comes in, which usually occurs between 6 and 12 months of age.

Why so early?

Recent studies show that nearly half of 2- and 3-year-olds have at least mild inflammation of gum tissues.

Your dentist can spot any problems and teach about proper diet, nutrition and healthy oral habits in children.

You're on board. Now, how can you prepare your barely walking kiddo for a visit to the dentist?

Choosing a Dentist

Does your family dentist have experience with young children? If not, you might consider taking your child to a pediatric dentist. Your dentist or friends with children can suggest one. In addition to extra training with squirming kids, a waiting room filled with kids books and toys can distract your child.

How does a pediatric dentist differ from a regular dentist? A pediatric dentist has at least two additional years of training beyond dental school that focuses on management and treatment of a child's developing teeth and the special needs of children's dentistry.

A pediatric dentist, the staff, and even the office décor are child-centered. You might suspect you've walked into a playground. As you're selecting a dentist, your list of questions might include:

Do you allow parents back with their child? Depending on your child’s age and comfort level, you might be asked to hold him while the dentist pokes around his mouth. Other staff might prefer you stay in the waiting room so your toddler can have some quality time to get to know the dentist and staff on his own.

What are your suggestions for breastfeeding moms? Not all dentists or researchers believe that breastfeeding, even breastfeeding at night, contributes to dental caries. Studies indicate that human milk doesn't cause cavities unless another source of carbohydrates is available for bacteria to feed.

What to Expect

The first dentist appointment serves as a meet and greet between tot and the dentist. It might even include a game of "can you open your mouth this wide?"

While child shows off those pearly whites, the dentist will check for decay and take a look at your child's gums, jaw, and bite.

You'll talk about good oral-hygiene habits and have the chance to ask any questions. Bring a list that might include toddler teething, thumb sucking, tooth-friendly foods and anything specific to your toddler's oral health.

Getting Your Child Ready

Talk about it. Talk to your child before hand on what to expect. Use the dentist's name in the conversation such as "Dr. White will count your teeth like this!" The idea is that familiarity will help them feel more comfortable.

Read about it. Check out a picture or story books from the library.

Practice it. Play "dentist" at home. Have them open their mouth wide to count teeth. Brush together (at least twice a day) and yes...drag out the floss. Take Teddy to the dentist for extra support.

Be positive. Teach what will happen but keep your information factual. "The dentist will look at your teeth." Don't allow siblings to scare them!

Once You're There

Be calm. Don't act nervous or make a big deal out of it. You child has has no reason to fear the dentist. You could be headed to the zoo or Grandma's house. Toddlers feed off your emotions, so if you treat the appointment as an adventure, they'll anticipate a fun-filled outing.

Be ready for a unsuccessful outing. If your child over-reacts and panics, go home and try another time.

Congratulations! Make a huge production afterwards about how well they did. Hoot and holler over the cool toothbrushes and clean teeth.

See you next time! Most experts recommend that toddlers see the dentist about every six months. So schedule that second appointment on your way out the door!

Has your toddler had a good (or bad) experience at the dentist? Do you have tips that could help other parents better prepare their children? Please share those in comments.

Bring the happy home.

Set the stage for future visits. Every now and then, talk about the nice dentist, the fun playground, the funny video, the clean teeth and the cool toothbrushes. You'll both be ready when that next appointment rolls around.

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