Taking Your Child to the Dentist
When my son turned 2, I called my family dentist to schedule an appointment.
"How old is your child?" the receptionist asked.
"He's 2-years-old," I replied, feeling a bit guilty.
"Two?" she asked. "Oh, I'm afraid that's a bit too young. Dr. Bruckner doesn't usually see children until they are at least 3."
I hung up the phone in a fit of relief. To be honest, I wasn't ready to deal with a whining toddler in a dentist's chair.
But then, I visited a friend. She filled me in on all the happenings with her 12-month-old. Imagine my surprise when she mentioned their first trip to the dentist.
I couldn't believe that a dentist would want to see a 12-month-old. I mean, what could this person possibly find in a baby's mouth? At 12 months, my boys were more gums than they were teeth. Besides, I always figured baby teeth just didn't count.
Yet, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) says, "Your child should visit a pediatric dentist when the first tooth comes in, usually between 6 and 12 months of age."
This news can be startling, especially if your 3-year-old has never seen a dentist. But the fact is, many parents, haven't heard about or don't follow the AAPD's recommendations.
Where to Go?
Once you decide when to visit the dentist, you have to decide where to go. How you choose a dentist for your preschooler depends on the relationship you have with your dentist. If you are happy with your general dentist, chances are you will take your preschooler to the same office. If not, there are plenty more dentists to choose from.
Before you call around to every office in town, you might want to know the differences between a general dentist and a pediatric dentist.
According to the AAPD, a pediatric dentist is a specialist with two to three years of additional training in children's dental health. Their practices focus on dentistry for infants through teenagers. The pediatric dentist is to dentistry what a pediatrician is to medicine.
For some people, this extra training is critical. "I wanted a pediatric dentist because they specialize in children's teeth," says Sara Morgan of Erie, Penn. She recommends that parents ask their pediatricians for a pediatric dentist referral.
But not everyone feels the same way. Katherine Hutt from Vienna, Va., sought out the expertise of a pediatric dentist, only to find disappointment. "All the things that were designed to make the experience more fun for kids, the large examining room with several chairs, the riot of color on the walls, the toys, etc., made it distracting and frightening for my son."
Hutt found a dentist in general practice. "I explained my situation and [the dentist] had me bring my son in for a visit that was a huge success," she says. "[My son] rode the chair up and down, looked at his own teeth on the overhead TV screen via a tiny in-mouth camera, and got to take his pick from the treasure box. No cleaning the first time and no fussing! When we came back for a standard appointment, he handled it like a pro, in the examining room, by himself, without me, and he cooperated totally."
What to Expect
Once the details of whom you will be seeing are out of the way, it's time to wonder what will happen at that first check-up.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Dorfman, a dentist in general practice and assistant professor at Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery, in New York, N.Y., "The child can sit on mom or dad's lap and watch their parent get their teeth cleaned. Later in the visit, it is time for the child to sit alone in the seat with their parents in the same room, while a fast check-up is performed."
Dorfman adds that if the child is compliant his or her teeth might be polished at that first visit.
What to Do
After reading what goes on, that first visit might not seem like a big deal. But for some children, it can be very scary. Fortunately, you as a parent can help alleviate the stress.
"Children model their behavior after their parents," Dorfman says. "If a child is particularly apprehensive, they might do better if they first watch mom or dad get treated."
In addition, Dorfman suggests that if the child still seems worried, parents can give them permission to stop the dental exam whenever they feel uncomfortable.
Sherri Ramsey from Erie, Penn., and her husband tried to prepare their 4-year-old for her first trip to the dentist. "We talked to her about it, and we showed her how to open her mouth," Ramsey says. "She went to the check-up with her dad, and she did very well."
Back at home, parents can help ensure good dental health by keeping the following tips in mind from Dr. Jeffrey Dorfman, a dentist in general practice and assistant professor at Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery, in New York, N.Y.