A teething baby often makes parents think of crankiness, drool, and frozen toys. The last thing most people is a trip to the dentist. However, experts suggest that your child should have their first visit to the dentist 6 months after their first tooth shows up or before their first birthday--whichever comes first.
Unfortunately, the first few trips to the dentist can be scary for your child. That's why you'll need to implement a few simple strategies to make the transition as easy for your child as possible. Their future dental health and hygiene habits depend on it.
Tip #1--Examine Their Mouth Frequently
If you've never had anyone look into your mouth before, the experience can be stressful. This is particularly true for a young child. The easiest way to overcome this is to condition your child to tolerate the exam yourself. They'll have the best chance of staying calm when a stranger performs the exam if you do.
Start giving your child pretend exams as soon as they begin teething--but don't wait until their teeth are bothering them. Incorporate exams into play time and relaxation when your child is in a good state of mind. By keeping your pretend exams positive and fun, the real thing won't seem too intimidating.
Tip #2--Use Conditioning Techniques
Conditioning involves our emotional and physical responses to external stimuli. Basically, you'll be able to develop your child's response to dental exams, brushing, and trips to the dentist in a positive way. If you don't, you run the risk of them developing their own negative associations.
Infants are very observant. Leverage this by allowing them to watch the other members of your household brush their teeth. Make the event happy, loud, and fun! Then, reward them with praise or a favorite treat. The resulting association will facilitate their future dental visits throughout childhood. They may even want to practice themselves!
Tip #3--Practice Brushing First
Along with the exam, another point of contention for many young children is the tooth polishing component of their visit. This experience is often an unfamiliar, frightening affair for your child. Like with the dental exam, the best way to combat this is to expose them to the process in advance.
That said, even if you frequently practice brushing your child's teeth with a home toothbrush, the experience will be decidedly different in the dental office. That's because both the tools used and the person using them will be unfamiliar. If you have a particularly sensitive child, it might be best to meet the dentist first on a different occasion--that way they aren't dealing with two unknowns at the same time.
Tip #4--Choose a Pediatric Dentist
Not all dentists are the same. Like doctors, dental professionals often have additional training and certifications that allow them to work with specific tools or patients. Pediatric dentistry is one such certification, requiring additional training beyond that of a general practitioner.
This means that pediatric dentists will have more knowledge regarding the age-specific issues that your child may face. Equally important, they will have a lot of experience in dealing with patient's first dental visits. The strategies and coping mechanisms they've developed over years of service will help them ease your child's anxiety. They'll likely have puppets, models, and other fun things to create a welcoming environment for your child.
No amount of preparation can ensure that your child's first visit to the dentist is a smooth one. That's no reason not to try, though. A positive first visit can set your child on the path to a lifetime of proper dental habits and good oral health. These tips--while not infallible--can help make that happen.
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