When my son was born, our pediatrician mentioned that we could expect him to get his first teeth between four and six months. Of course, some babies get their first tooth much later - and others are BORN with teeth (WHOA)! Dr. C assured us that dentists weren't really interested in seeing toddler until they were two-and-a-half or three years old. Sometime in the last few years, that recommendation has changed! Now dentists want to see toddlers at age one. Even if they don't have all their teeth! Luckily, no one gave me dirty looks when I brought my own two-and-a-half year old toddler in for his first dental appointment.
I'm pretty sure I was more nervous for the dentist visit than my son! Full disclosure: my kiddo has some quirks that make hygiene a challenge at times. He freaks out if we get his hair wet, he sometimes fights diaper changes, and he used to literally bite us when we tried to brush his teeth. I know, I know. Trust me, I have all the mom guilt about just giving in too many times. Because I didn't put my foot down every single night before bed, my kiddo ended up with a spot of decay on one of his molars. After I got done beating myself up for being THE WORST MOM EVER, I called the dentist and made him an appointment.
Walking in totally blind with a toddler who is sometimes resistant to having your hands near his mouth was miserable. But no need to fear! I learned a few things at the dentist that really made me feel so much more at ease. Shep sensed that I was comfortable, so he was comfortable, too! Here's what we learned from our very first trip to the dentist's office:
Prepare Your Kid
For a few days before his appointment, I spoke regularly with Shep about going to see "the tooth doctor". We even practiced saying "Aaaaaahhhhhh" and opening wide so the tooth doctor can look inside his mouth! I grabbed a flashlight and a toddler spoon and poked around, explaining that doctors do this to make sure our teeth stay happy. Promising a treat afterward was a huge win - I think my toddler got so excited for the treat, he forgot all about the looking-at-your-teeth part!
They Will Be Gentle
If you get an icky feeling about the dentist's office, or you feel they're not being anything but incredibly kind and patient with your little one, GET UP AND LEAVE. Even if you have no other provider options, it's best NOT to scar your child with a bad first impression. That's exactly why so many people are afraid of going to the dentist in the first place! You can say, "I'm sorry, Rosie isn't having a great day. Can we reschedule and try this again another time?" At the front desk, feel free to request a different hygienist or dentist if possible.
The dentist we visited was incredibly patient with our little guy. In fact, the hygienist did most of the hands-on work with Shep. She explained that she had a little mirror (she showed him how he could see himself) and that she was going to look inside his mouth to see his teeth. Before even asking him to sit in the chair, she explained that they would only be counting his teeth and looking at them. Since he had just visited his pediatrician and gotten immunized a few days before, I made sure to emphasize that this doctor wouldn't be giving him any "pokeys".
Some Dentist Specialize In Pediatrics
If it's at all possible, try to make your first visit one with a pediatric dentist. They're specially trained in dealing with young people and even have kid-sized chairs! The pediatric dentist we visited had a television in the ceiling with kid's shows playing, which helped calm Shep. They also ended the visit with the chance to pick from a treat bin - a HUGE bonus for anxious toddlers! Our dentist, Dr. B, was able to recommend a kid-specific approach to stopping the decay in Shep's tooth from causing lasting damage. It involved no drilling, no numbing shots, and no x-rays. How cool is that? In and out in two minutes flat - just what my little man needed!
Visiting the dentist doesn't have to be super stressful, especially not for little ones! Knowing what to expect can help you keep your kiddo at ease - and it can help you rest easy, too. Happy brushing!
Do you have good memories of visiting the dentist as a little kid? What does your dentist do to make kids feel more comfortable? Send me your best experiences on Twitter @pi3sugarpi3 with #ToothDoctor!