Many times parents worry about preparing their child for their first dental appointment. But experience shows an interesting pattern. Sometimes the preparation backfires by making the child worried or anxious about the visit. Often, the children who do the best seem to be the ones with the least preparation.
When you think about it, this pattern seems to make sense. If parents aren’t worried about the visit and treat it as routine, then the children are also likely not to worry about it.
Most general dentists who like seeing children in their practices recommend first seeing children when their baby teeth have all erupted, or are close to being complete. This usually occurs around age two or three. That’s what I did when I was practicing. And if you take your child in for a routine exam at this time, you are well on the way to helping that child develop a healthy attitude toward dental care. This visit can be fun for your child. We would “count his or her teeth”—do a quick check in the mouth, tooth by tooth. If they are willing to accept it, we would do a light cleaning. This helps the child develop a positive attitude toward dental care.
If you wait until your child has a dental problem, this first visit could end up being very traumatic for them, and could adversely affect their attitude toward dental care for the rest of their life.
Depending on your child’s age and the personal style of your dentist, your child may sit on our lap or in a chair near you. Some dentists prefer to have you wait in the waiting room for your child. In any case, a big concern during the first visit will be to help your child establish a relationship with the dentist and the staff.
Usually around age four is when your child will be old enough to cooperate in the taking of x-rays. I never recommended fluoride treatment for children until the permanent teeth came in—the benefits are transitory, and the children are too likely to swallow the fluoride, which isn’t healthy.