Children should have their first dentist appointment by his or her first birthday, or roughly six months after his first tooth comes in. While this may be surprising to some parents,
considering that new teeth are presumably strong and healthy, Colgate, the industry
leader in dental health products, explains that cavities, tooth decay and oral health problems tend to be genetic. Seeing a pediatric dentist by age one helps prevent cavities and alerts parents to the risk of a child developing tooth decay in years to come.
Regular Dentist vs. Pediatric Dentist
A pediatric dentist is specially strained to treat oral health issues and problems unique to kids, such as developmental problems. A dentist whose specialty is working with children can do postgraduate work in a children’s hospital where they learn about the unique challenges of treating young patients. Prashant Gagneja, DDS an associate professor of pediatric dentistry at OHSU School of Dentistry, explains that using sedatives and anesthesia on young patients is very different than for adults. There’s also a behavioral
aspect to running a dental practice for children. Imagine as an adult seeing a mural of Curious George or SpongeBob SquarePants on your dentist’s walls. The murals are not there just to perk up the atmosphere but rather for the purpose of relaxing kids, who are notoriously fearful of any kind of medical exam.
How to Choose a Dentist For Your Child
When looking for a pediatric dentist, parents don’t just want a professional who can fill cavities and clean teeth, but one who will also the make the experience relaxing — perhaps even fun — for the child. Making a healthy association with a dentist early in life can lead to better dental hygiene in adulthood.
Some suggestions for finding the right pediatric dentist include asking friends for a recommendation or getting a referral from a pediatrician. The American Academy
of Pediatric Dentistry also has a search tool for finding a pediatric dentist anywhere in the country.
It’s a good idea to call the practice before making an appointment to see if the staff is friendly and visit the office to see if it is a good environment for children. These days many pediatric dentists have websites. Parents can get a lot of information about the dentist and staff members this way. Parents should confirm that the dentist they’re considering has an additional two years of residency training with babies, young kids, teens and children with special needs.
What to Expect
A pediatric dentist will treat a child from infancy to about age 18. Some dentists will continue seeing their patients for as long as they’re comfortable in an office with a sliding board and cartoons playing in the background. All children should have yearly oral exams, including cleanings, fluoride treatments and sealants. Kids who suck their thumb or use a pacifier may need to be monitored for possible orthodontic intervention.
All kids will be evaluated at some point for other problems that may require orthodontic work, such as an improper bite, crooked, displaced or fractured teeth. A pediatric dentist will manage and help prevent gum diseases and oral conditions like gingivitis, periodontal disease and ulcers and short frenulum, a condition that affects the tongue.
How to Prepare For a First Dentist Visit
The dentist can be an extraordinarily scary place. One study found that as many as 43
percent kids may have a fear of the dentist. To keep a child calm about her impending exam, parents should explain what will happen, but without going into too much detail.
Parents magazine suggests not saying that everything will be OK in the event that the child needs a more involved procedure. Misleading a child about what may happen could result in her developing an even more intense fear and distrust of the dentist.
Avoid scary words like “shot,” “needle,” and “hurt.” Adults should describe the exam by saying the dentist will clean and count the child’s teeth and make sure they’re strong and healthy. Unless the child is specifically going in to have a cavity filled, don’t even mention that possibility. Fortunately, calming a frightened child is something a pediatric dentist is specifically qualified to do.
What Not to Do
Bringing a child to mom or dad’s dentist appointment is a big no no. Too much could go wrong. A dental practice for adults is typically very boring or very scary for a child, which could lead to the formation of a negative association with all dentists. Hearing the sounds of drills that are not drowned out by funny cartoons or a joyful musical soundtrack can be terrifying.
If the child has to accompany the parent into the examination room, tools, which are very well hidden in a pediatric dentist’s office, could be in plain view, including needles, sharp dental picks, scary machines that hum loudly and make nefarious sucking sounds. Finally, after even a relatively easy cleaning, seeing bloody cotton or bloody gums could be horrifying for anyone.
Making Dental Appointments Easier
Of course, by developing good oral health habits, parents’ could prevent a lot of turmoil at the dentist’s office. Prevent tooth decay with a diet high in vegetables and low in sugar. Children should learn how to brush their teeth as early as possible with toothpaste containing fluoride.
If on the way to the dentist’s office a child becomes frightened, it’s best to stay calm. Oftentimes, the office staff will have more luck easing the child’s fears since they have so much experience in this area. One common trick pediatric dentist and dental hygienists use is asking the parent to stay in the waiting room. Believe it or not, but kids are more likely to have a meltdown with a parent — especially parents who will do anything to
prevent a meltdown, like give in and go home.