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Surviving your child's first dental appointment

Kori Ellis is an editor and writer based in San Antonio, TX, where she lives with her husband and four children. At SheKnows, she writes about parenting, fashion, beauty and other lifestyle topics. Additionally, Kori has been published i...

First trip to the dentist

Every child is a bit fearful at her first dental appointment. But with a little preparation and patience, you can make this milestone visit a whole lot easier on both of you.

February is National Children's Dental Health Month. It's also a good reminder to get your kids (and yourself) to the dentist if their checkup is due. If you have a little one, visiting the dentist for the first time can be a traumatic experience for both of you. Follow these tips and suggestions to help you survive your child's first dental appointment.

The ideal time for your child's first dental appointment is at or before one year of age, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Dental Association and the Academy of General Dentistry. However many parents do not bring their kids to the dentist until they are closer to three years old. No matter when you take your child to the dentist for the first time, it can be a scary experience.

Start preparing them early

Begin preparing your child several weeks before their appointment. "Fear of the unknown is the greatest challenge when bringing your child to the dentist," says Dr. Steven G. Goldberg, D.D.S., inventor of the DentalVibe Injection Comfort System. "Teach your children about their visit. Read books to them and watch videos about a trip to the dentist. They will be excited when they hear about the dental chair that they'll sit in which turns into a couch, and how the dentist will use a little mirror so they can look inside their mouth and count their teeth, especially those in the back."

Make a practice visit

Many times it's the equipment, atmosphere and unfamiliarity of the dental office that scares young children, rather than the actual exam itself. Call the dentist office and ask if you can bring your child by without actually having an exam. This way your child can get familiar with the dentist office, meet some of the staff and maybe even talk to the dentist. A practice visit will allow your child to get more comfortable so that when their first real visit does happen, he won't be as fearful.

Lie them down for teeth brushing

This might seem odd, but one of the best ways to prepare your children for the dentist is to have them lie down on the floor while you brush their teeth. A big part of the fear of the dentist for kids is lying down with a big person looming over. By brushing the child's teeth this way at home, your little one will get used to being in this position. You'll also be able to do a better job brushing. As soon as your baby gets teeth, you can begin cleaning their teeth with age-appropriate toothpaste. You can brush your baby or toddler's teeth and gums with a very soft toothbrush, use a cloth and water or clean with specially made dental wipes.

Bring along some distractions

When you head to the dentist office for your child's first appointment, bring some distractions. A lovey, a book or other favorite toy is a good idea. This will provide your child with something to do while waiting in the lobby and also offer comfort and familiarity once he/she is in the exam room. Expect your child to be fearful and maybe even cry, but it's important for the parent to maintain a positive outlook and a calm voice. If you don't freak out, then your child is less likely to become anxious and scared. Remind your child throughout the appointment that it's OK to be scared — everyone is a bit fearful when they face something new.

Quick tip

"Call ahead and have the office send the registration forms to your home," says Goldberg. "Then when arriving at the office, parents can spend quality time with their child instead of using this valuable time for paperwork."

More about dental health

A checklist for choosing a pediatric dentist
Are dental x-rays safe for your kids?
Teaching kids about dental health

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