As a parent, you have the unique privilege of experiencing a lot of milestones with your child. You get to be present the first time they eat solid food, watch proudly as they sit up on their own and cheer for them as they take their first steps. Among the less-documented — but equally important — firsts is your baby’s first dental visit.
When it comes to scheduling your child’s first dentist appointment, there can be a lot of apprehension for both you and your child. The good news is that pediatric dental appointments can be a wonderful experience. In fact, a baby dental checkup is one of the best ways to have fun with your child as they and you learn more about dental care and their oral development!
Learn more about how to prepare for your baby’s first dental visit to ensure your child’s oral hygiene journey starts the best way possible.
The Importance of Your Child’s First Dental Visit
Your child’s first dental visit is an important step in raising your child to care about their dental well-being. It puts them into early contact with kind dental professionals who can show them how to care for their teeth, educate them and provide professional cleaning services to help keep their teeth as clean as possible when they’re at home.
What you do in the days and weeks leading up to your child’s first dental visit is equally important. Preparing for the dentist and experiencing a dental appointment together is a great way to teach your child more about taking care of their body. And, while your child may not have a full set of teeth yet, it’s essential to help them establish good oral habits that will follow them as they grow.
Your child’s first dental visit can even benefit you as the parent. You’ll learn about and be reminded of ways you can help guide your child onward in their oral hygiene journey. Your child may be too young to handle all their oral care duties by themselves. Your child’s pediatric dentist will give you tips on the routines and practices you can establish at home so your child’s mouth will stay as healthy as possible.
Common Questions About Your Baby’s First Dental Appointment
As you prepare your child for the dentist, you may have some questions. That’s completely normal, and Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics is always ready and willing to answer any questions you have. But, we’ve also found that first-time parents often share many of the same questions and concerns. So, we’ve compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions and our recommendations for making your baby or toddler’s first dentist visit a low-stress event for both parent and patient.
In this guide, we’ll answer the following questions about your baby’s first dental appointment:
- When Should a Child See a Dentist for the First Time
- What Happens at the First Dentist Appointment
- Can You Stay With Your Child During Their Appointment
- How Do You Prepare Your Child for Their First Dentist Visit
- Tips for Your Child’s First Dentist Appointment
1. When Should a Child See a Dentist for the First Time?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association say your child’s first dentist visit should occur by the age of 1 or — if they begin teething early — within six months of getting their first tooth. Since infants typically start teething anywhere between 3 and 6 months, this means that your baby’s first dentist visit may occur slightly before their first birthday.
While we do recommend that your child see a pediatric dentist by age 1, many parents miss this mark. And that’s fine! There are many other parents right there with you. It is common for a child’s first visit to be at age 2, 3, 4 or even later than that. Regardless of when you decide to bring your child in for their first visit, we are continuously adapting to each child’s age, temperament and developmental readiness so their first visit feels comfortable and fun!
It’s important to establish good oral hygiene from the very first tooth. Even before your child’s teeth begin to come in, you can introduce them to good oral hygiene habits by regularly wiping their gums with a damp cloth. As soon as teeth start to pop in through the gums, start brushing them with a soft-bristled toothbrush.
2. What Happens at the First Dentist Appointment?
If you are a new parent — or just new to our practice — you may be wondering what to expect at your child’s first dentist appointment. The main goal of this first visit is to begin to introduce your child to our office, our staff and the idea of dentistry.
Young children can often feel a lot of apprehension about visiting the dentist. Much of this apprehension can come from the words and actions of the parents that the children pick up on. That’s why we spend a lot of time simply putting each child’s mind at ease, teaching them that they can trust the dentist and even enjoy their visit.
To prevent meltdowns and tantrums, we recommend that parents schedule their toddler’s first dentist visit in the morning. This is because children are typically in their best moods earlier in the day. They are less likely to become upset and overwhelmed during their first pediatric dental visit if they’re rested and alert.
We always tell our patients to allow one hour for their visit, but we recognize that even the most well-behaved children aren’t going to sit still for that long. Our goal is to complete your child’s exam in less than an hour.
During your baby’s first dental checkup, they will receive the following:
- Tour: Before beginning the seated portion of our appointment, we’ll show them the dentist’s chair and the tools we use and briefly explain what we’ll do when we look at their mouth and teeth. For many children, greeting our caring staff and seeing our facilities goes a long way toward putting their minds at ease. It also helps them stay calm once they’re in the chair and see the dentist or hygienist start using their tools of the trade. Of course, our tour is also for the benefit of our parents, helping them become familiar with our office and comfortable with our staff.
- Exam: During the first visit, you can expect to sit in the dentist’s chair with your child on your lap if they are under 2 years old. While some older children may be willing to sit in the chair on their own, most little ones are more comfortable when they know their parents are close by. Once you are both comfortably seated, the dentist will begin your child’s exam. Whether your child has one tooth or a mouthful, they’ll count and examine each tooth, as well as check out your child’s gums, jaw and bite. For some children who are at least 4 years old, we may want to take x-rays if we deem it medically necessary.
- Cleaning: We do a thorough cleaning at every exam, although if your child only has one or two teeth, this might be very quick! For babies and toddlers, we often will use a regular toothbrush to perform their cleaning. This is developmentally more appropriate for the littles and is a great opportunity for the dentist to demonstrate at-home brushing techniques. For children who are comfortable sitting in the chair on their own, we use a soft rubber polishing brush. This provides gentle, deep cleaning for their delicate teeth.
- Fluoride: Portland doesn’t add fluoride to the water, so applying fluoride treatments at a dental visit is an effective way to protect your child’s teeth. We always recommend this treatment, although we recognize that some parents prefer avoiding fluoride treatment. Many of our parents may remember the old-school way of applying fluoride by cramming Styrofoam trays of gooey fluoride gel into their mouths. We are happy to say that at Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, we simply paint fluoride onto our patients’ teeth with a brush. And it takes a matter of seconds! Besides being a more comfortable way to apply fluoride, your child will be able to eat and drink immediately after they leave our office.
3. Can I Stay With My Child During Their Appointment?
Yes, of course, you can! We realize that young children become apprehensive if they are separated from their parents, even in the best of situations. We want to do everything we can to ease your child’s stress levels — and yours. If this is your baby’s first dentist appointment, your baby will sit in your lap as we perform the exam and discuss guidance on your child’s oral hygiene.
As your child ages, we will work with you to encourage them to sit in the dental chair on their own. However, we recognize that some children may still need their parent to remain close during their exams. We are always happy to work with you and your child to make sure you are both comfortable throughout the appointment.
4. How Do I Prepare My Child for Their First Dentist Visit?
Preparation for a dental visit begins at home and always depends on the age and developmental stage of your child. Obviously, a 10- or 11-month-old will understand less than a 2-year-old, but they can pick up on your tone of voice and your feelings. They can tell if you are excited about something or if you are angry or sad. This means that how you talk and act about the dentist will have a significant impact on how your children feel going into their appointment.
As you talk about your child’s upcoming dental visit, make an effort to influence your child with good feelings and thoughts about their visit and dentistry as a whole. This can be difficult for some parents if they had an unpleasant experience in the past and struggle with their own anxiety when they visit the dentist. Yet it’s important that you try your best to portray the dentist as an exciting experience for your child.
Here are some ways you can help prepare your child for their first dental visit:
- Stay calm: If you treat the dental visit like it’s a normal part of life, your child will find little to worry about leading up to their appointment.
- Address fears: If your child expresses fear, address it. Talk with them about all of the good that comes from visiting the dentist and always avoid talking about unpleasant dental procedures or negative things like cavities.
- Read books about the dentist: Visit your local library or bookstore to find age-appropriate books about dental visits and hygiene. Knowing that other people go to the dentist and seeing pictures of a dentist’s office in advance can help your child stay calm and reduce their fear of the unknown.
- Explain in simple terms: If your child is old enough to understand what you’re saying, then you can give them a general idea of what to expect. Use simple phrasing that will make sense to them, such as telling them the dentist will “count their teeth,” “take pictures of their teeth,” and “brush their teeth.” Avoid using words that can lead them to believe it will be painful, such as “drilling,” “shot,” or “hurt.”
Even with all of the best intentions, your child may be nervous at their first appointment. They may cry or refuse to let the dentist look inside of their mouth. This is fine. If your child won’t let the dentist do everything at the first appointment, your time with us is laying the groundwork for future visits to Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics.
By establishing a connection with a dentist early on, you teach your child that the dentist is a normal part of their life. Over time, this will help to prevent anxiety over dental visits and, if the time comes when they do need dental work, they will be comfortable enough to let us help them.
Tips for Your Child’s First Dentist Appointment
As a parent, preparing your child for the dentist starts at home. The best way to prep for your child’s first dentist appointment is to make sure you are prepared as well.
1. Be a Good Role Model
When you practice good oral hygiene at home, you are modeling good oral hygiene for your child. By teaching them that it’s vital to take care of their teeth, you are setting the stage for the necessity of going to the dentist. Your child will see that taking care of your teeth is a part of life and growing up, and chances are that they will be excited about the opportunity to start caring for their own teeth.
Besides letting your child watch you brush and floss, take the time to make their own oral hygiene fun. As you help them brush and floss, incorporate rhymes and songs into their routine. If they’re still hesitant, buy them an age-appropriate toothbrush and toothpaste that has their favorite cartoon characters on it to encourage them to get excited about this part of their day. And if you brush your teeth with your child, they will look forward to that time of bonding with you every day.
2. Make the First Visit an Adventure
When you create excitement around your child’s first dental visit, you turn it into a fun outing rather than a dreaded appointment. Get your child to look forward to their first appointment by talking about how fun it will be or how it will be a new experience for them and a part of growing up.
We can even help you raise excitement for your child. Feel free to call our office for a description of the toys we have in our waiting room or a rundown of all the kid-friendly movies we have available in our exam rooms. We’re happy to provide you with plenty of details to convince your little one that their visit to Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics will be relaxing and perhaps even fun!
3. Incorporate the Dentist Into Playtime
Kids do a lot of their early learning through play, so use playtime to familiarize your child with the concept of the dentist. If your child is old enough, consider a “pretend” dental visit in the comfort of your own home. Hold up a mirror to their mouth, count their teeth and brush them. Take turns sitting in a chair, and let your child take a turn doing the same to you. Just avoid making drilling sounds or other noises that might cause them to be afraid.
4. Avoid Bribery
We get it. It’s tempting to offer your child a piece of candy or a milkshake if they’ll just cooperate at the dentist. Food — especially sugary treats — can be a powerful motivator for young children, but it’s a bad habit to get into.
Besides the fact that sweets are generally unhealthy, bribing your child with candy to behave at the dentist goes against our goal of encouraging good oral health. It can also make it difficult for our dentist to assess your child’s oral health if they’re working around bits of crackers, raisins or candy stuck in your child’s teeth.
If your child is young and needs the incentive, use non-edible bribes to encourage their cooperation. Perhaps you can plan a trip to the park after your dental appointment. Throughout the visit, remind them that you’ll be heading to the slides as soon as they allow the dentist to finish. Or, plan an outing to visit a friend or a grandparent after their dental appointment, and use their excitement to see a loved one as motivation to behave.
Our Pediatric Dentist, Dr. Dana Fox, Is a Mom Too!
Dr. Dana is more than a pediatric dentist — she’s a mom too! In addition to being a board-certified pediatric dentist, Dr. Dana is a mom to three busy little ones. She understands the highs and the lows of infant brushing and toddler independence. She practices what she preaches and shares real-life advice to parents regarding oral health home care. You can rest assured that your child is in the best of hands during their first visit to Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics.
Choose Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics in Portland
Your baby’s first dental visit is an important milestone. It can set the tone for their opinion of the dentist and their cooperation in the future. At Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, we commit to working alongside Portland-area parents to make a child’s first dental visit as stress-free as possible. Easily accessible in Portland’s Buckman neighborhood, our staff works with all ages of children, from their first tooth until they head off to college.
By offering dental and orthodontic care in the same office, our goal is to reduce the amount of running around you need to do and, at the same time, provide high-quality dental care with dentists and orthodontists who work together and consult on your child’s specific needs.
Enjoy the highest level of compassion and professionalism in dentistry. Book your baby’s first dental appointment today!