Whether your toddler has a mouth full of teeth or only a few poking through, it’s time to start thinking about keeping his adorable smile healthy by visiting the dentist. Without a doubt, infant’s teeth don’t last forever but it’s still important to keep those tiny teeth — and gums — in tip-top shape while they’re saving the spots for grown-up teeth.
This is what you have to think about your child’s first dentist appointment:
When to visit the dentist
It might seem soon, but try to schedule your child’s first dental appointment at a pediatric dentist (or one who’s good with children) by the time he sprouts a tooth or turns a year old, whichever comes first, according to the latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). (The previous recommendation was between 1 and 2 years old or within six months of baby getting that first tooth.)
Tips to Make Your Child’s Dentist Visit Easier
Before you assume that getting your toddler into the dentist’s chair will involve either a tantrum or bribery, remember that your child doesn’t harbor any ill will toward the dentist — yet. After all, he hasn’t had a close encounter with The Drill. For him, that first visit could be as much fun as a stop at the local amusement park (the chair goes up and down, back and forth!). So keep your own negative feelings in check (if you have any) and let your child enjoy his first dental visit with the same enthusiasm as a visit to Grandma’s (without the candy, of course).
Overcoming fear of the dentist
Some toddlers have anxiety about medical and dental checkups, and their fears are completely understandable. Do your best to be patient with your little patient, and let him know you recognize how he feels. To help alleviate anxiety, here are a few tactics to try before and during the appointment:
- Read up and role-play: Read picture books about visiting the dentist, and encourage your toddler to play “dentist” with a stuffed animal or doll — opening wide, looking inside and giving teeth a polish.
- Use positive language: Explain to your sweetie that a dentist is a doctor who helps build healthy, strong teeth, but avoids getting into much technical detail about the visit, which may confuse more than it clears up.
- Come prepared: Bring along comfort toys and distractions for the waiting room and the dentist’s chair.
- Plan a treat: Something as simple as a trip to the playground after the dentist can help your toddler stay focused on the positive.
- Stay relaxed: Your own stress or anxiety about the dentist may be more noticeable than you think, especially for a perceptive and sensitive toddler. If you’re cheerful and calm, you set the tone for your child to be, too.
- Be a good cheerleader: Congratulate your kiddo whenever you can (“Good job opening wide!”), and try to be supportive, not critical, if your child has a hard time cooperating. And remember: Even if he kicks and screams the whole time, it’s nothing an experienced pediatric dentist hasn’t seen before.
How often to visit the dentist
Based on how your toddler’s teeth look, your dentist will let you know when to make the next visit. Most experts recommend that toddlers see the dentist about every six months — as long as there are no major problems. So don’t forget to schedule your child’s second appointment on your way out the door!