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My First Visit to the Dentist: Practicing Good Oral Health at a Young Age

March 01, 2018

By: Anna Maria Dimanlig, D.D.M., FADI

Department Chair of Dental Medicine

Cardinal Santos Medical Center


Parents should endeavor to make a child’s first dental visit a pleasant experience. A pleasant first dental visit will help establish a long-term anxiety-free, apprehension-free, relationship between the child-patient and the dentist-oral care provider. To such end, planning the first dental visit is essential.


Baby’s First Dental Visit


The first dental visit should take place sometime between the baby’s first tooth eruption and the child’s first birthday. This will likely be made between the age of 6 months and 1 year. During the first visit, the dentist normally talks to the child to gain his or her confidence. Once the child realizes that the dentist is a friend and not a foe, the dentist examines the child’s mouth with the child lying or sitting on the parent’s lap. On the first visit, mouth exam is invariably brief. The dentist usually uses one non-threatening instrument -- the mouth mirror. The dentist can start the examination by telling the child that her teeth will be counted. The dentist checks if the teeth, gum pads and soft tissues are healthy. The dentist examines the child’s facial and oral development as well.


Making Dental Exam Fun for Kids


Dentists have developed their own language for explaining dental instruments to children. The drill may be called a “tiny toothbrush”. The saliva ejector may be called “Mr. Thirsty” or “vacuum cleaner”. As for the procedures, the application of anesthesia may be referred to as “putting the tooth to sleep”. The first visit is a great opportunity for the dentist to educate the parents about brushing the baby’s teeth. Models of the teeth are shown to the parents; then, the proper way of brushing is explained to them. The dentist empowers the parents with this knowledge of brushing a toddler’s teeth.


Don’t underestimate your kids. Parents have their own insecurities that are rooted, possibly, to their own unpleasant (first) visit/s to the dentist. Parents’ insecurities may cause some to promise their kid a toy, or a trip to the mall when the visit is over. This ploy could be counterproductive. Promised rewards could send the wrong signal to kids. They may anticipate a “bad” that is about to happen and that they are being promised a reward to bear with the perceived “bad”.


Make your child’s first visit a family trip. Large families have an advantage -- older children may serve as role models to their younger siblings during oral examination. A younger child who sees an older brother or sister sitting still for a dental exam is encouraged to be as cooperative during his or her own turn on the dental chair. Such scenario often results in a pleasant dental consultation for the first timer.


What is Baby-bottle Tooth Decay?


Baby-bottle tooth decay, the most common reason for tooth decay before age 3, is caused by a combination of factors: 1) failure to clean baby’s teeth daily and 2) the use of the feeding bottle as a pacifier. It is a tragedy if the child’s first visit entails treatment for baby bottle cavities. Unfortunately, some children never see a dentist until there’s an emergency. The family has waited until a cavity has developed or worse, a toothache has come along. It is the dentist’s aim that the child’s first visit be a pleasant experience. Parents should not make the first dental visit an emergency visit or worse, a visit with acute toothache.


Preventing Tooth Decay


You may follow some of these practices to reduce an infant’s risk of tooth decay prior to the first dental visit:


1) Clean your infant’s teeth twice daily.


2) Do not permit your child to use a bottle containing milk, juice, or anything other than plain water as daytime or night time pacifier.


3) After your child has learned to drink from a cup, get rid of that day-long companion bottle containing juice or sweetened liquid.


4) Do not give baby a pacifier dipped in jelly or sugar.


It is our hope that parents consider and apply these tips to make your child’s first dental visit a pleasant one.


(source: The Mitre Jan-Feb 2016)