Kids First Dental Visit Expectations
Matt Hannan, DDS
Updated: November 27, 2023
According to the American Dental Association, (ADA) children should visit the dentist within six months of the eruption of their first tooth or by their first birthday. But, you may be wondering, why so early?
Visiting the dentist can be intimidating for kids. Cavities, commonly called “sugar bugs,” can damage unsuspecting teeth.
Therefore, being proactive and protecting your children’s teeth is essential. In addition, healthy brushing habits and regular dental visits will decrease children’s chances of suffering from tooth decay and oral health problems.Recommended Reading: Overcoming Obstacles at the Dentist
Dental Visit Steps
- Dental chair
- Intraoral and extraoral exams
- Teeth evaluation
- Teeth cleaning
- Pediatric dentist referral
It’s vital to lay the solid groundwork before their first dental visit. Thankfully, many forms of media have done an excellent job portraying the dentist positively.
For example, many books provide a great introduction to what takes place at the dental office. Parents can also supplement this learning by reminding the child that the dentist is a friend and wants to keep their teeth clean and healthy.
Recommended Children’s Books
- The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist (Berenstain Bears)
- Just Going to the Dentist (Little Critter)
- Dentist Trip (Peppa Pig)
- The Tooth Book (Dr. Seuss)
Stay positive and keep the conversation fun as you introduce these new experiences to your children.
Healthy teeth begin with healthy eating habits. Teeth are constantly under acid attacks after sugary foods and drinks contact the surface of the teeth.
Repeated acid attacks can cause tooth decay, pain, and possibly infection. In addition, dental plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth when oral hygiene is not maintained.
Bacteria use sugar to produce acid that attacks the tooth’s enamel surface. To help prevent tooth decay, ensure your child eats a healthy diet and saves sweets for mealtime to avoid repeated acid attacks.
Helpful & Healthy Tips
- Brush twice a day and floss once a day
- Use a smear amount of fluoride toothpaste for children under age 3
- Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste for children ages 3-6
- Choose a child-sized toothbrush with soft bristles
- Replace toothbrush every three months
- Supervise children while they brush their teeth
Before your visit, you may be asked to complete relevant medical and dental questionnaires online. Take advantage of this so you’re not overwhelmed on the day of your appointment.
Also, don’t be alarmed if your child becomes antsy or concerned upon arrival. Children commonly receive x-rays beginning at age three or the dentist’s discretion.
Recommended Reading: First Dental Visit Expectations | Adults
1. Dental Chair
Sitting in the dental chair alone can be intimidating for many children. If this is the case, the parent can sit first, followed by the child on their lap.
This seating arrangement allows the child to rest on you while the chair leans back. Parents can also sit on the edge of the chair while the child sits on their lap, facing them with legs wrapped around their waist because it allows the child to easily lay back on the dentist’s knees for better visualization.
2. Intraoral & Extraoral Exams
The dentist may palpate under the jaw, behind the ears, and around the neck to look for abnormalities. Below are common areas of the mouth that the dentist will examine.
- Floor of the mouth (below the tongue)
- Soft palate
- Hard palate
- Gum tissue
Children may feel uncomfortable during this stage and begin to cry. Crying is an excellent way for dentists to visualize their teeth quickly.
3. Teeth Evaluation
Teeth evaluation consists of visual, tactile, and radiographic assessment, which allows the clinician to diagnose any treatment.
Many dentists use magnification loupes up to 3.5x to better visualize the teeth and surrounding gum tissue within the oral cavity. Next, the dentist may use a dental instrument (explorer) to screen for cavities by gently inserting it into suspecting areas. If the explorer sticks, a cavity may be present. Learn more about cavities and how they are treated in the article below.
Related: Read more about Cavities
4. Teeth Cleaning
If the child cooperates, the dentist may gently use a scaling instrument to remove plaque and calculus. Next, the dentist or dental assistant will polish the child’s teeth to be smooth and shiny. If desired, the dentist will floss teeth and apply fluoride.
Fluoride is vital because it remineralizes weakened enamel and prevents tooth decay.
Recommended Reading: Top 5 Best Kids Mouthwash 2023
The most common area for plaque to localize is the inside of the lower molars and the outside of the upper molars.
5. Pediatric Dentist Referral
The dentist will discuss a pediatric dentist referral if the child requires treatment that the general dentist is not comfortable managing. Although this can be frustrating, the general dentist will always keep the child’s best interest.
A pediatric dentist can provide an exceptional experience for the child and minimize undesirable outcomes and trauma.
Related: Learn more about Pediatric Dentistry
Avoid using words such as “sharp,” “poke,” “pain,” and “hurt” when discussing the dentist. Instead, try introducing phrases such as “Mr. Thirsty” for the saliva suction and “Mr. Bumpy” for the dental drill. Also, have your child practice opening and closing their mouth on command.
- Make sure the child is well-rested on the day of the appointment
- Don’t schedule the appointment during a regular nap time
- Be sure the child has a healthy, balanced breakfast
- Have the child brush their teeth before the appointment
- Bring a special toy to help soothe the child if necessary
- Save snacks for after the visit so the dentist can thoroughly visualize the teeth
- Avoid harsh demands if the child is having a difficult time
- Work alongside the dentist to encourage and cultivate a positive experience
- Make a list of questions for your dentist before the appointment
Recommended Reading: Baby Teeth Are Important Too!
My Experience & Expertise
Continue to encourage them during this process, and don’t be hard on them if things don’t go as planned. Don’t be alarmed if your child cannot tolerate any aspect of their dental visit. The experience can sometimes be overwhelming.
Ultimately, the goal of the first visit is to screen for tooth decay, introduce the child to the dental office and cultivate a positive environment so they’re willing to return in the future.
Knowledge is power when cultivating healthy dental habits. The more informed you are, the better positioned you’ll be to prevent avoidable and potentially costly dental procedures for you and your family. Watch for future blog posts, where we’ll continue sharing important information, product reviews and practical advice!