It is recommended that children begin seeing a dentist early in life to instill good dental practices. However, the sound of tools, unknown contraptions like X-rays and surgical masks can scare a child, which is why they should meet with a pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentistry is a specialized branch of dentistry that focuses solely on children, meaning the employees working at a pediatric dental office have attended dental school or a dental assistant program to learn the best ways to treat young patients.
When Should a Child First See the Dentist?
Dental habits are ingrained early in life, so it is recommended to take your child to the dentist approximately six months after their first tooth comes in. Some early dental conditions common to children include baby bottle tooth decay, teething irritation, gum disease, and prolonged thumb-sucking. Some of these conditions require dental attention very early, while others will be monitored by the pediatric dentist throughout future visits. Baby bottle tooth decay is a serious condition that affects the upper front teeth and is caused by prolonged exposure to drinks that contain sugar. The condition can arise when a child is put to bed with a bottle, or when a bottle takes the place of a pacifier. Thumb-sucking is a common dental concern for parents, but the American Dental Association has recently stated that a child can safely suck their thumb up to six years of age without damaging their jaw alignment.
Pediatric procedures are often less invasive than many adult procedures, such as tooth extraction. One very common dental procedure for children is oral prophylaxis. Someone with dental assistant training knows that although the term sounds complex, oral prophylaxis is simply a technical term to describe teeth cleaning for children. This is a light cleaning involving minimal tools, paired with oral hygiene education instruction to the child from the dentist. Another common procedure in pediatric dentistry is the application of fluoride. Fluoride is applied to prevent decay in children’s teeth and comes in the form of gels, foams, and varnishes. Pediatric dentists will often use a sealant to fill pits and fissures in a child’s teeth, which protects molars from tooth decay and cavities by keeping out bacteria.
How to Soothe Nervous Children
The best way to approach a child’s first trip to the pediatric dentist is to make the visit a positive experience. It is best to avoid words like shot, pinch or pain, and a parent shouldn’t reveal too many details about the dental procedure to avoid making the child nervous. A parent or guardian may mimic a “pretend visit” to the dentist at home, but it is important to avoid pretend to drill or using any other invasive instruments. You may tell the child that a dentist will just “check his/her smile” as a way to make the check-up less mysterious to the child. A pediatric dental office will often take steps to make the atmosphere positive and inviting. The waiting room may have toys or structures which imitate a playground and will use bright colorful wall paint to let a child know that it is a safe space.
What tips do you have for a child’s first visit to the dentist?