Your child’s journey is full of many new experiences and visiting the dentist for the first time is one of them. It can be an anxious time for you both, but with some forethought and preparation it is possible to make this time fun and enjoyable for your child.
When should you first take your child?
Some experts believe you should bring your child in for an examination as early as possible. The Australian Dental Association (ADA) recommends your child’s first dental visit should take place when your baby’s first tooth becomes visible or when they reach 12 months old, whatever comes first. It is important to assess the growth and development of your child’s teeth early to identify any potential problems, so your first visit should ideally take place before they turn 2 years old.
How can you prepare your child for the visit?
Your role as a parent is very important in making your child’s visit as positive as possible. Here are a few tips to help prepare your child for a visit that is a smooth as possible:
- If your child has an older sibling visiting the dentist, allow them to come too. A dental surgery is unique in its sights, sounds and even smells and making it a familiar environment will help when it becomes your child’s turn.
- Keep a positive attitude towards the dentist (even if you might not feel it yourself!!). Using positive words, rather than negative words like “hurt”, “drill”, “needle” or “scared” is important. Hopefully your child will adopt your positive attitude.
- They will also notice how you are feeling about it. If you are anxious or nervous, they will pick up on it and be anxious too.
- Explain what the dentist is going to do and why, without going into too much details, as long as your child understands the dentist wants to take care of our teeth and make sure they are healthy and growing well. You can even practise at home. The ADA suggests that in the lead up to your first visit you could “play dentist”. Make a game of getting them to open their mouths and count their teeth. Your child could even play dentist with their soft toy or doll.
- You may be able to find a children’s storybook or video about going to the dentist that will explain to your child what to expect and get them familiar with what going to the dentist looks and sounds like.
- You could use this time to explain to your child about the importance of brushing their teeth and teach them proper brushing techniques.
- The visit probably won’t go well if you child is tired or hungry. Try to arrange your child’s appointment outside of naptimes or mealtimes.
What can you expect at your visit?
Your dental team are used to dealing with children and will try to make your visit as relaxed and fun as possible to ease any anxiety you child may feel. Most surgeries are kid-friendly and have plenty of toys, games and videos available to distract your child and reduce anxiety. As a parent, you will be able to be seated close by and if your child is not comfortable enough to sit in the dental chair, the examination may even take place on your lap! You can expect your dentist to be gentle and to explain to your child what he or she is about to do. They will take a look inside your child’s mouth to assess their teeth, gums, jaw and bite and will also have a chat with you about good oral hygiene practices you can teach your child.
It is normal for children to feel uncertain and a little scared at their first visit, so some fussing during your visit is nothing to worry about. If it all just too much for them and they are really unhappy, it’s okay to leave the visit for now and have another try in a few months’ time.