At what age should my child begin to see the dentist?
The answer to this is simple, the sooner is better. Even if your child is unable to sit in the dental chair, there are still benefits to visiting the dentist. Before a child even has teeth, there are potential issues within the oral cavity that can be diagnosed early, preventing problems down the road. A dentist with proper training can help you to prevent dental and health problems that may develop as your child grows.
Before teeth have started to erupt, a dentist can identify swallowing dysfunctions and over attached frenums that can alter the development of the oral cavity, jaws and cranium. Enlarged tonsils and chronic mouth breathing can be treated to improve long term health. When baby teeth come in, oral habits such as thumb sucking or pacifier use can be addressed before permanent deformation of the palate, jaw and cranial bones occurs. As early as 3 years old, treatment to gently guide palatal growth can begin to prevent malalignment of teeth, asymmetrical growth or restricted growth of the face.
The first hygiene visit: It’s all about TRUST
Regular hygiene visits should begin by age 2. These visits might not be the typical scaling and polishing. Small children may not even want to sit in the chair. It may be a simple visit to get your child comfortable in the dental setting. Your hygienist can say hello, show them “tools”, give them a toothbrush, have them demonstrate how they brush their own teeth and give them a prize. Children can start by coming in with a parent or an older sibling who is not nervous at the dentist to see that it’s safe and comfortable. It is ok to let your young child sit on your lap in the dental chair if they are very nervous about their appointment. The first visit is all about building trust.
Fear of the dentist starts at home.
All too often I see parents using scare tactics to get kids to go to the dentist or brush their teeth. Though this may work at home to get them to brush after dinner, it can create a challenge in the dental chair. Telling a child that they will get cavities and the dentist will have to use a big needle to give them a shot before fixing the cavities doesn’t make for a very smooth visit to the dentist.
Let them go it alone.
Sometimes it is beneficial to let the child go into the dental room on their own. If they are comfortable walking back with the dental staff, allow it. You may walk back to observe after your child is seated and comfortable. Kids pick up on parents’ nerves. Sometimes, kids will get nervous and seek out a parent to call the whole visit off without giving it a try. With the parent out of the room, the children tend to stick out the appointment and as trust is earned, they develop a relationship with their dental team.
Pick a time for the appointment where your child is well rested and won’t be hungry. Watch cartoons or read books that involve a trip to the dentist. Tell them how fun it will be and that the dentist or hygienist will give them a prize.
Don’t force them.
If your child just isn’t ready to open wide for the hygienist, don’t force them or create negative consequences. We want your child’s visit to be a positive experience. Continue to bring them in on a regular schedule. By the second or third visit, they will be comfortable enough to let the dentist and hygienist do what they need to do.