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Visiting the dentist is rarely an enjoyable experience, either for adults or children. All of us have experienced anxiety at some point in our life about visiting one. However, parents and dentists can both play a critical role in making the child’s first dental visit a positive one.

According to the Australian Dental Association, a safe practice is to have your toddler’s first visit to the dentist as soon as his/her first tooth erupts or as he/she turns one year old, whichever occurs first. Kids who have been introduced to seeing the dentist from an early age tend to develop a confident attitude towards their dental hygiene and run smooth visits for a checkup.

What to expect for the first visit?

It’s wise to keep the first dental visit brief and with little or no treatment. This meeting will serve as a basic dental orientation. Some dentists are considerate to offer support for the parent, and allow them to sit on the dental chair while holding their child during the examination.

Or the parent may also be asked to sit and wait in the waiting area so that the dentist can independently build a trusting relationship with the minor patient. Usually on the first visit, dentists educate parents about proper gum and teeth care for their kids using proper brushing techniques to parents who can further guide their kids.

Topics like appropriate nutrition and tooth-friendly snacks and meals for toddlers or little kids are also brought under discussion. Many parents also have other concerns around things like feeders and pacifiers, which can be sorted out during this initial visit. The advice from dentists about teeth and gums can be important for future cavity prevention.

What will the dentist look for in your toddler or child?

During examination, the dentist is actively going to detect existing problems like cavities, if any, your child’s bite, or the shape of the dental alignment. They will also see the current status of oral health, gum and jaw position, or any other possible developmental flaw. Some parents find serious issues like black gums in toddlers, and that is the perfect opportunity to get to the bottom of the issue.

If necessary, the dentist might clean teeth and prescribe fluoride for improved dental health.

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How to soothe anxious kids

Let’s take a look at few helpful tips for parents in easing their child’s fears and making the dentist’s visit, a smooth one.

1. Inform your child of the upcoming visit, but keep it simple. Give them relevant answers. Allow the dentist to answer more challenging questions. Dentists are usually trained in explaining queries to children in easy and friendly ways.

2. It’s better to avoid the discussion of kids possibly going for a shot during treatment. The little ones tend to overthink things using their imagination.

3. Try sharing your positive dental experiences with the kids (and sweep unpleasant ones the carpet). Emphasize before your child that the dentist is a friendly doctor.

4. Offer emotional support to your kids, often coupled with hugs and kisses.

5. Understand that it is perfectly normal for kids to be fearful. Some kids having separation anxiety from parents, some are afraid of shots or the pain. Usually the paediatric dentist knows how to cater well for children’s anxiety and pacify them.

6. For children who are more sensitive and cranky, it’s best to choose a paediatric dentist for your child.

7. Schedule your child’s appointment in the earlier part of the day where kids are well rested and fresh.

What is the difference between a paediatric dentist and the regular dentist? 

A paediatric dentist has an advanced specialization of two years, post basic dental training. The advanced training includes treatment of a child’s developing jaw, their behavior, growth spurts and development, and dentistry for special-needs children.

A regular dentist, on the other hand, caters for your child’s general dental issues. They may or may not be especially trained to deal with advanced children needs. Conversely, a paediatric dentist, their entire staff, even the clinic ambiance is highly suited for children.

Parents who have children with special needs often face multiple physical and behavioral challenges with their kids. Hence, a paediatric dentist who has received training in everything from a “child angle” is likely to handle kids with special needs better.

Facts about pediatric dental health in Australia

How many children have experienced dental decay?

Around 42% of children between ages 5–10 had experience decay in their primary teeth. 27% are left with untreated decay in these teeth (NCOHS)

How frequently do Australian children brush their teeth?

More than two-thirds (69%) of children aged 5–14 brushed their teeth with toothpaste at least twice a day.

Some additional guidelines for parents

  • Parents and caregivers need to bear in mind that there is a difference between taking the child for a dental check-up versus caring for their teeth on a consistent basis.
  • Parents should be aware about the basics of good oral health, so they can foster these habits within their children.
  • A well-known parenting fact is that children learn more by seeing their parents, than actually listening from them. Based on this rule, parents should follow a strong oral hygiene routine themselves before inculcating it within their kids.

To conclude, it’s best to schedule your child’s dental visit every 6 months as it not only helps monitor the teeth development but also builds the child’s confidence and trust in visiting the dentist.

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