written by Samantha Tillapaugh from The Debtist
Child raising is no easy task, especially if you’re a first-time parent. Despite all the advice that friends, family, and well-wishers throw at you, it seems that none of them actually work in terms of making the job easier. I’m sure you’re frantically trying to find space in your hectic schedule to get a bathroom break in peace, let alone a wink of sleep! So of course, I understand the look you’re going to give me when I tell you that somewhere in between the baby bottle juggling and the diaper toss, you’ve got to schedule your child’s first dental visit, too. A look that’s mixed between, “Can you not see I’m busy drowning in to do lists?” and “Why don’t you try your hand at this?” As if you don’t already have enough advice being thrown at you left and right, a few words on a child’s first dental visit:
A child’s first baby tooth appears around 6 months old. Typically, it will be one of the lower two front teeth. Look out for it, although I am sure your little one will let you know it’s coming as they’re gnawing away at all those teething toys, or in some cases, whatever they can get their mouths on. Some might wail as a precautionary measure to warn you that it’s teething time! If the tooth comes earlier or later than 6 months, don’t be alarmed! It is considered normal to be within 3 months of the scheduled timeline. It is important to remember that some babies have a head start, and others are late bloomers. The eruption of the first baby tooth is the first sign that your child should see their dentist. It is recommended that a child establishes their “dental home” no later than a year after their birth. The sooner, the better - here’s why!
When it comes to teeth, we can get behind creating good dental habits early on. It is best if a child establishes a dental home at a young age for multiple reasons.
To check and maintain a healthy oral cavity: It’s obvious that there is tooth decay when a tooth has turned black. Anyone can diagnose that. Unfortunately, by that point, it may be too late! Most tooth decay detected by our eyes have already been present for a long time! We recommend seeing your child every six months as soon as the first tooth erupts, so that we can spot problems early on! Maybe our exams will be limited until your child is old enough to take radiographs, but an exam is still better than nothing at all! Let’s be proactive with our dental care!
To develop good oral hygiene habits: When your little one is six months old, the people dentists really want to talk to are the parents. As parents, you will have to guide your child toward good, daily oral hygiene habits. Sometimes, that means holding their hand and doing the brushing for them until they are five years old! We know that they will want to grow up fast but we want them to grow up WITH TEETH! So don’t let them go on their own too early. If your child insists, maybe give them time to brush on their own, and then immediately afterwards, follow up by re-brushing their teeth. Your dentist should be willing to go over some tips if you’re having difficulty with your child’s brushing tendencies. I am sure you have a lot of questions, so do not hesitate to ask your dentist on these visits. Plus, the more times your child gets their cleanings, the more opportunities the dentist has to inform them on ways they can improve, too!
To become familiar with the family dentist and dental procedures: Dental procedures can be seen as scary to kids, no thanks to the bright lights, loud sounds, and perception in the media. But they shouldn’t be! We want kids to be familiar with going to the dentist. We want appointments to be fun! And we want to make check-ups easy for them. You know the saying: practice makes perfect. The more times they see the dentist, the more comfortable they will be.
To avoid fear of the dentist: Humans, especially little ones, fear the unknown. By developing a dental home early on, a child can become more comfortable with the dentist and will start to see check-ups as part of a routine. When you start to brush your child’s teeth, at first they will resist. But after many practice runs, much resistance, and possibly battle scars, they will soon accept it as a part of life. That’s the same with the dental visit (minus the battle scars!).
Things to Expect:
The first dental visit is not going to be perfect. But it establishes the start of what will be a great relationship between your child and their dentist. Here are some things that you might need to prepare yourself for.
The first dental visit will be a visual exam. At six months old, we are not going to take radiographs, a fact you probably already knew. “So what’s the point?”, you may ask. The first visit is usually a visual exam. Meaning, we have your child open their mouth and take a peek at their brand new chompers. If we can get a dental instrument in there to feel the surfaces for any ‘holes’ or ‘soft spots’ that might indicate a cavity, then great! If not, then there is always the next visit. What we really want to accomplish is the familiarity of going to the dentist. Good habits are easier developed early on.
Your child may cry. Let’s face it. Everything at the dental office is completely alien to your little one. There’s a lot of stimulation going on and your child may not like it. So, they cry. Well, crying is actually good, because I can stick my head in their tiny mouths and peer at their teeth, mid-cry. Sometimes, that’s better than fighting with a child to open their mouth. If your child cries, do not immediately assume it’s related to trauma or pain. And please do not stop coming to the dentist. As mentioned before, the more they get used to coming in, the more cooperative they’ll be in future visits.
Nothing may get done. If the baby or child is not cooperative AND does not cry, then it’d be pretty difficult to take a look at their teeth. No worries! Let’s just call this an introductory visit! “Here’s the dentist, your new friend!” “Nice to meet you, little one! Next time, you are going to do so great, we just know it!”
We have to be patient: We don’t want your child to have a traumatic experience, because that can affect their perception of dental procedures and can keep them away from their six month check ups when they grow older. We want the experience to be positive, therefore, forcing a child to cooperate is not the best way to go. We can always try again next time. If there IS treatment that needs to be done, but your child stops cooperating, there are also other things we can do, such as refer to a pediatric dentist (also known as a pedodontist) who specializes in working with children!
So there you have it! Now you are equipped with the to-dos and the whys and the hows. If you can find time to establish a dental home for your child early on, you and your child will have an easier time as your child gets older. Hopefully this advice helps you sleep soundly at night too, knowing that their teeth are in good hands!
Samantha Tillapaugh is a practicing general dentist in Orange County, CA and is a lifestyle blogger at thedebtist.com.