Your Child's First Dental Visit - How to Prepare & What to Expect

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Your Child's First Dental Visit - How to Prepare & What to ExpectClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. When
  2. How to Prepare
  3. What to Expect
  4. Tips for Success
  5. Child's Oral Health at Home
  6. Frequently Asked Questions
  7. References

Pediatricians and dentists advise parents to take children to the dentist for the first time soon after their first tooth starts to come in. That is usually when infants are about 6 months old, although the timing varies from child to child.

Parents can prepare for that initial dental appointment in several ways, including talking about going to the dentist in positive ways and by promoting sound dental health by watching for bad habits that can start early.

When Should Your Child First Visit the Dentist?

Experts in the dental field recommend taking your child to their first dental visit within six months after their first tooth appears and no later their first birthday. Children typically experience their first tooth eruption about six months of age, although the exact timing varies from child to child.

To prepare for this first visit, you want to plan the appointment in the morning, so your child is alert and fresh, although this is something that’s often easier said than done.

Like securing an appointment with the doctor, scheduling with a dentist can take months.

One strategy is to schedule an appointment for six or seven months after they are born and one month out, check to see if your child has a tooth ready for the dentist to examine. If not, move the appointment back one or two months. Often moving an appointment is easier than scheduling the initial one.

How to Prepare Your Child for Their First Dental Visit

Scheduling the appointment in the morning is the best time for children to experience this event. To get them ready for the appointment, start talking to them in a positive way about what to expect at the dentists. You can also go through some practice steps, such as having them practice opening their mouth for the dentist to look at their teeth.

Another good way to prepare your child for their first dental visit is to read books or watch videos about first visits. These items can help prevent your child from becoming afraid of dental visits. There are ways parents can prepare themselves as well.

When you make the first appointment for your baby or young child, ask any questions you have about the visit. It will save time when you arrive with your child if your questions are answered, instead of delaying your child's checkup with the dentist. To prepare for your questions, make a list of them, such as:

  • Teething questions about how to handle this time with your child
  • If your child sucks their thumb, ask any questions you might have about how this affects their teeth or mouth
  • If your child is still using a pacifier, ask any questions you might have on the effects of this in your child's mouth

What to Expect at Your Child's First Dental Visit

During your child’s initial visit, the dentist can give you information about things to keep an eye on before the second visit and beyond. Among them:

  • Finger-sucking habits
  • Baby-bottle tooth decay
  • Pacifier habits
  • Infant feeding practices
  • Teething
  • Mouth cleaning

Throughout your child’s time in the exam/cleaning room, you can hold your child on your lap if they are nervous or afraid of sitting alone in the big chair.

For the bulk of the visit the dentist will spend time examining your child’s teeth and jaw and how they are developing. The dentist will also look for any cavities, gum and mouth injuries. Once the exam is complete, the dentist will clean your child's teeth.

Dentists and their hygienists are used to children who squirm, wiggle, twitch and cry. Remember: this is a new and potentially scary experience for kids. Unless they happen to see another child in the lobby while waiting to get called back, the child may be surrounded only by adults, adding to the fear factor.

Tips for a Successful First Dental Visit

Here are some tips to help with your child's first visit to the dentist:

  • Schedule the appointment during the morning hours and, if possible, during a time you know your child will be rested and more cooperative.
  • When you think about the appointment, you need to think of it as a positive experience. If you have a good outlook on it, your feelings will extend to your child.
  • Remember that you and the dentist are a team, and you should work with them to keep your child calm and happy.
  • Before leaving for the appointment, feed your child a light meal and have them brush their teeth.
  • Don't give snacks until after the appointment. You want to minimize any debris left in their mouths or on their teeth for the exam.

Child's Oral Health at Home

Cavities, or tooth decay, are one the most common diseases for American children. If tooth decay goes untreated, it will cause significant infections and pain for kids. Untreated cavities can also lead to other serious problems, such as:

  • Learning
  • Playing
  • Speaking
  • Eating

Studies have shown that children with poor oral health miss more school than children who practice good oral health practices.

Tips for Good Oral Health for Children

Oral health at home is important for your baby's and young child's health, both physically and orally. If you have a baby, you can follow these tips to maintain your baby's oral health:

  • Two times a day wipe your baby's gums with a soft cloth. Do this once in the morning after their first feeding, and then again before bed. This process will remove bacteria and sugars that can lead to cavities in developing teeth.
  • When your baby's teeth start to come in or erupt, begin brushing them twice a day. Use a small-bristled, soft toothbrush with plain water.
  • Provide your baby with drinking water that has fluoride.
  • Talk to both your doctor and dentist about having fluoride varnish or dental sealants on your child's teeth. Ask them when this process should be done.
  • If your child is younger than 6, you should monitor them when they brush their teeth and help if needed. They should be placing a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on their brush, and spit it out, not swallow it. Continue monitoring them until they have developed good brushing skills.

If your child is younger than the age of 2, talk to your doctor or dentist about using toothpaste with fluoride in them.

If your drinking water does not have sufficient fluoride in it to prevent cavities (0.7 milligrams per liter) ask your dentist if your child needs oral fluoride supplements. Fluoride supplements come in lozenges, tablets, or drop form. If you don’t know your fluoride levels, you can call your water utility company and ask or request a copy of their recent “consumer confidence report.”

FAQs

What age should a child go to the dentist for the first time?
You should plan your child's first dental visit after you see their first tooth, but no later than their first birthday. Children’s teeth tend to erupt about six months after birth.
What will the dentist do on the first visit?
During your child's first dental visit, the dentist will examine their teeth and mouth to ensure they are developing the way they should. The dentist will also look for any cavities, mouth injuries and other oral issues.

References

A Child's First Dental Visit Fact Sheet. (2021). Stanford Children's Health.

Your Baby's First Dental Visit. American Dental Association.

Children's Oral Health. (April 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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