What to Expect
1. Meeting and Greeting
- "To make sure your child feels comfortable, formally introduce him to the dentist on his first visit," says Judy Ann Taylor, D.D.S. A good children's dentist will explain each step of the checkup with your child, show him the tools she'll be using, and assure him that he can sit on Mommy's or Daddy's lap and stop any procedure if he's nervous.
2. Learning the Facts
Using models, an oversize brush, and "cavity creep" finger puppets, the dentist will show your child how to brush with your help. "A dentist may also explain how the cavity creeps come out at night to harm teeth and how eating nutritious meals and drinking plenty of water keeps teeth healthy," says Dr. Taylor. She'll also use this time to address your questions and concerns.
3. Mastering the Machinery
Because the spitting cup may make some scary sucking noises, the dentist will show your child how it works and how to spit into it properly. Then she'll put on a mask and gloves to count your child's teeth, using the model -- or you -- to demonstrate before putting her fingers in his mouth.
4. Cleaning and Polishing
Next, the dentist will polish your child's teeth with a rotary toothbrush. "Make sure the staff provides him with goggles or sunglasses to protect his eyes in case a tool slips or toothpaste sprays," says Dr. Taylor. Letting the child see and hear the brush before it's placed in his mouth helps put him at ease.
5. Finishing Touches
As with the other procedures she performs, the dentist will show your child how the sucking straw works before she uses it to remove extra toothpaste and saliva. As a final step, the dentist may apply a coat of topical fluoride. "I always ask the parent if it's okay to use fluoride," says Dr. Taylor, "but the research shows that periodic fluoride treatments prevent decay." A child should not eat or drink for 30 minutes after a treatment.
6. Picking a Prize
Stickers, finger puppets, crayons, key chains -- the more varied the grab bag, the better. "Prizes are a wonderful way to get kids to think the dentist's office is a fun place," says Dr. Taylor. You may want to let your child pick a prize during the cleaning if he seems nervous. But if he gets genuinely upset, "he may not be ready for his first visit," says Dr. Taylor. "In that case, cut it short and try again in a few months."