For most adults, going to the dentist is a routine part of life, but for small children, it can be an unfamiliar and sometimes scary experience. Younger children may worry that going to the dentist will hurt, or they simply aren’t sure what to expect during a checkup. While it is human nature to be afraid of the unknown, parents have a unique opportunity to help create a sense of safety around a visit to the dentist. If it’s time to schedule your child’s first dental visit, you can turn it into a fun adventure with preparation and patience. Here at the Coppe + Sears office, we want patients of all ages to look forward to their visits! To give you some tools for achieving this with your child, we’ve put together these 5 Tips for Taking the Fear Out of Your Child’s First Dental Visit.  But first, let’s look at when to schedule your child’s first dental visit.

When to schedule your child’s first dental visit

The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry both recommend that a child’s first dental visit should occur no later than his or her first birthday. Research conducted in recent years has shown that preschool-aged children are getting more cavities than ever before, with more than one in four children developing a cavity by the age of four. Many even had cavities as early as the age of two. Because the tooth decay process can begin as soon as your child’s first tooth erupts, decay in these baby teeth can actually increase the risk for decay in the permanent ones. Seeing a dentist by the age of one is a great way to get a head start on a healthy mouth for your child.

Preparing your child for his or her first dental visit

With unfamiliar sights, sounds, and people, it’s easy to see why some children may be nervous about visiting the dentist. Once they overcome their initial fears, most young patients realize that regular checkups aren’t anything to fear. Follow the tips below to get your child excited about dental health!

Start at home 

mother and daughter brushing their teeth

By practicing dental hygiene together with your children, you are familiarizing oral health for them. Give them an active role, even if they are too young to brush or floss their own teeth. Let them pick out a fun toothbrush or choose the toothpaste flavor. Set a timer for two minutes and do a silly dance while you both brush; then, finish the job for them to be sure teeth are clean. Talk to your children about ways to build healthier teeth and encourage them to take steps to protect their teeth. When kids are comfortable with a regular dental hygiene routine, their first dental visit will be more familiar than frightening.

There are also steps you can take at home to help keep your child’s mouth healthy, such as:

  • End sucking habits as soon as possible since they can lead to potential tooth misalignment.
  • Choose the right toothbrush – it should be soft and child-sized. Plan to replace the brush every three months.
  • Use the right amount of toothpaste – a young child needs no more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the brush. This is enough to offer adequate fluoride.
  • Help your child brush his or her teeth thoroughly after breakfast and before bed. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children under the age of 8 brush with the help of a parent to ensure plaque and bacteria don’t have a chance to build up.
  • Avoid giving your child too many starchy and sugary snacks. These stick to teeth and can increase the risk of decay.

Keep things positively simple

little girl brushing her teeth

When preparing your child for the first dental visit, do not include too many details. This can overwhelm small children and add unnecessary anxiety. Instead, children should know that they can expect the dentist to check their smile, count their teeth, and maybe look for any “sugar bugs” that need to be cleaned off the teeth. There are even free online games for younger children that allow them to play “dentist” by interactively cleaning teeth.

Above all, keep things positive. Try to avoid negative words like “shot”, “hurt”, or “pain.” Opt for positive phrases like “clean, strong teeth” or a “healthy smile” in order to make the visit feel like something to look forward to rather than fear. If you have your own anxiety about dental visits, try your best to keep negativity out of your words, voice, and actions. How you feel about the dentist yourself can greatly impact the kind of experience your child will have at his or her first visit.

The power of pretend

The unfamiliarity children have with a new dentist and dental office can heighten any unease they’re feeling. You can combat this by engaging in pretend play with your child. Start with you as the parent portraying the dentist and your child as the patient. Take a new toothbrush and count your little one’s teeth by using numbers or letters. Hold a mirror up and illustrate how the dentist may look around and clean his or her teeth. Then switch roles and let your child be the dentist. You can let your child brush your teeth or use the toothbrush on a stuffed animal or doll. Getting familiar with this routine can make you child’s first visit much more comfortable.

Schedule strategically  

It is completely normal and age-appropriate for a young child to cry, whine, or wiggle during a dental visit. Pediatric dentists are familiar with tantrums and have seen their fair share of them, so stay calm if your child gets upset during the first visit. You may be able to lessen the chances of your child getting upset by planning the appointment time strategically. Schedule the visit at a time when your child is at his or her best, whether that’s early morning or later in the afternoon. Take your time getting to the office, so your child does not feel rushed. Additionally, try to plan around naptime, so your child will not be tired or cranky before arriving.

Pick the right pediatric dental office for your needs

One of the best ways to ensure a positive dental experience for your child is to ensure you have a positive experience, too. It is important to select a dental office and provider you feel comfortable with and trust. Some of the factors to consider when selecting a great dentist for your child include:

Conveniently located near your home, school, or work: Finding a dental office near you makes getting to and from visits easy, and it keeps your child at his or her best since the ride over to the appointment will be a short one. The Coppe + Sears office is conveniently located in downtown Lexington, just off Mass Avenue.  

Flexible appointments: Today’s families are busier than ever before, between school, work, and any extracurricular activities. Being able to schedule appointments that fit your lifestyle can keep your stress levels way down. We offer earlier morning appointments as well as extended hours every Wednesday.

Caring, compassionate, and experienced providers:  Coppe + Sears is tailored to specifically cater to children. Our dentists and staff have many combined years of experience treating children of all ages with the highest level of care. During your child’s first visit, especially, our team will use comforting words and will work hard to minimize any anxiety he or she may be experiencing.

Kid-friendly facilities: Dental offices do not have to be sterile and scary; they can be a lot of fun!  A child-oriented waiting room and dental exam rooms can be a great way to calm your child’s fears by providing a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. Children are reassured when they see other children being treated in the dental office. Your child won’t feel alone during a visit with us because we have three dental chairs in a large, single room.

It’s important to us that your child feels comfortable and at ease with our staff. We will often play games with children, sing with them, or let them get out of the dental chair to explore the treatment area. We put a lot of emphasis on keeping your child’s dental visit interactive, and we make it a priority to keep the lines of communication open with both you and your child.

Trusting your child’s smile to Coppe + Sears

If it’s time for your child’s first dental visit, our pediatric office is an excellent option. Coppe + Sears have a talented team well-versed in treating infants, children, and adolescents. We’re able to provide a positive dental experience in Lexington and the surrounding area, and we take pride in educating children on the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene in order to help create a happy, healthy smile. Get in touch with us today to schedule your child’s first dental visit, and let us walk you both through the process with kindness, patience, and a gentle hand.