Dental experts believe that preschool-age children or even younger should have their visit to the dentist for an overall evaluation. We recommend around age 3 for the first visit, unless the child has signs of decay, pain or parents have other concerns. This first appointment also helps to introduce young children to the dental staff as well as the office procedures, so they can begin to get acquainted with the routine and start a life-long practice of dental hygiene. Since the hygienist plays a crucial role, here are typical steps to expect when a child makes a first visit to the dental office.
Accompanied by a parent or caregiver, a child will be introduced to the staff in the office. The dental hygienist will give a brief and simple explanation of the procedures along with the equipment will be explained, so the child knows there is nothing to fear, especially with reassurance from the dental team and the accompanying adult.
At the child’s first dental appointment, the hygienist will use age-appropriate terms and sentences the little one will understand. The cleaning procedure, and dental instruments used during the examination will be explained. Children will be taught self-care for brushing and flossing their teeth. Kids will also be taught how to avoid cavity-causing foods and beverages.
The dentist will examine the teeth to see if they align with the child’s age and development level. Any anomalies like misalignments or teeth that have not erupted yet will be noted. Normal development of the mouth, jaw, and teeth will be checked. X-rays may be taken if needed, especially if caries, or cavities, are noted or suspected. Depending on the child’s age, parents may be advised of recommended referrals, such as an evaluation for braces.
At each step of the examination, the dentist and hygienist will be upbeat and explain to the child what is happening. Using humor and gentleness, the dental team will help the child to feel comfortable during the visit.
Kids will also receive advice for routine dental care at home. This usually involves explaining to children which substances can cause problems for teeth, such as hard candy or too much sugar. They might be told to avoid soft drinks or gum, which can add more sugar that may seem unnoticeable to children but take a toll on their teeth.
A dental hygienist can also explain the precautions that should be taken when playing sports to prevent dental injuries. Wearing a mouth guard, for example, can help to prevent serious injuries to the teeth and mouth if a child gets hit with a ball or heavy athletic equipment. Children will learn that caring for their teeth is an important of protecting their overall health.
An essential part of a child’s first dental appointment is training for proper at-home dental hygiene. A child-size toothbrush will be given as part of a free kit at the end of the visit and dental floss may be included for children who are old enough to use it correctly.
The hygienist can also demonstrate how to use home care dental products. The tone will be light-hearted and fun as well as informative and encouraging. Children are encouraged to ask questions about things they don’t understand.
Establish a Dental Routine
Another way the hygienist can put a child at ease is to talk to the child at eye level and explain what to expect for the next visit. As the child gets used to the dental hygienist and the dentist and begins to feel comfortable and secure, the visits that follow will go smoothly and effectively. Kids look forward to their dental checkups when they expect to see friendly faces and a familiar routine as well as possibly receive a goody bag at the end of the visit. Getting good checkups can also increase a child’s self-esteem and facilitate the activities that lead to successful home care and eventual self-care as the child gets older. Going to the dentist should feel as normal and comfortable as getting regular medical checkups for children. As parents prepare their kids with what to expect when they visit the dentist, children will learn to take good care of their teeth for rewards that go beyond the goody bag after each visit.