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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Follow these tips to put your child on the road to a bright, healthy smile.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.