First Trip to the Dentist

When should kids have their teeth examined? And how should you prepare? Read on for a fun, fear-free first trip to the dentist.

By 2 1/2 most children have cut all of their baby teeth, so toddlerhood is a great time to instill good dental habits. "Baby teeth are important because they hold space for permanent teeth," says Judy Ann Taylor, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist in Brooklyn. Decay in baby teeth also increases the risk of decay in permanent teeth.

Although dentists now recommend that kids see a dentist for the first time by their first birthday, twice-yearly dental checkups and proper care at home are the keys to ensuring pearly whites throughout childhood. For toddlers, however, the first dental visit can be a scary proposition. Strange instruments, loud noises, and new faces can upset even the most nonchalant 2-year-old. But with careful preparation (and plenty of prizes), a first trip to the dentist can actually be fun.

Before You Go

  • Your first impulse may be to take your child to your own dentist, but this is not a good idea, unless a sizable part of her practice is children. She can probably recommend a kid-friendly dentist, however. (Friends with children are another good source of recommendations.) Or call the American Dental Association (312-440-2617; or the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (312-337-2169; for an accredited pediatric dentist in your area. Then make an appointment to tour the office with your child. Observe how the staff handles children, and make sure you're comfortable with all procedures. "Parents should be in the examining room with the child," says Judy Ann Taylor, D.D.S., "and a dentist should stop working if a child gets upset or nervous." Watch out for cleanliness: Dental tools should be wrapped in plastic, the staff should wear protective gloves and masks, and patients should wear protective glasses.
  • Provide the dentist with a list of any medical conditions your child has or medications he takes. Keep your pediatrician's phone number handy, too, in case the dentist needs additional health information.
  • If your child has a sucking habit, be it thumb, pacifier, or bottle, let the dentist know, as it may affect your child's teeth and jaw. Also, be aware that sleeping with a bottle of milk or juice can cause tooth decay. "During sleep, liquids in the mouth -- which are full of sugar and bacteria -- pool around the teeth and erode them," says Dr. Taylor.
  • Talk to your child about what's going to happen. Practice brushing with your child beforehand, too, so she will be used to having a toothbrush in her mouth.

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