Your child's first dental visit should be fun, easy and not confronting for your little one. So how do you ensure your child is happy at the Dentist?
I have seen a lot of children in my 20+ years experience. I’ve tried lots of different techniques and tricks to get children in the dental chair, so here's what works for me, in my clinic, and what doesn’t...
What age should I have my child’s teeth checked?
In my experience, get them into dental surgery young! Even if they have no teeth, it’s still good to get your child familiar with the setting and the idea of having a stranger put their fingers in their mouth. Remember, we teach our children from a really young age that they have control of their bodies and absolutely have the right to say no to a stranger looking in their mouth. However, if it’s encouraged in a positive, happy, exciting, professional manner, from a young age, it will become as second nature as a trip to the hairdresser. So, I recommend having their first dental experience before the age of 1.
What to expect for the first few visits
Do I expect your child to speak to me? Nope. Do I expect your child to open their mouth for me? Nope. Do I expect your child to sit in the dental chair? Nope. Heck, I don’t even expect them to look at me without crying. But what I do expect is slow and steady persistence. I want to see your child every 3-6 months in the first few years so they become so familiar with me, that they say “Hi” to me at the supermarket. I want them to know my name and I want to ask them about their favourite toys and colours and their pets' names. I want to build a rapport with your child from a young age, so that IF I ever do need to do a filling or an extraction, they know me, they trust me and they know I won’t hurt them. After all, would you walk up to a stranger on the street and allow them to put their fingers in YOUR mouth. Nope, didn’t think so.
“Trust me, one wrong word, and we will have the next Usain Bolt on our hands, heading straight for the front door”
Should you explain the procedure to your child?
NO!! This is a big one. Please don’t try and explain to your child what we will do in the surgery. Just let them know they are meeting a new friend that will look after their smile and leave it at that. We have very specific training in regards to the language we use in the clinic and we don’t use words such as “hurt”. Not even in the context of “this won’t hurt”. As soon as a child hears a negative word, they are OUTTA THERE! Trust me, one wrong word and we have the next Usain Bolt heading for the door! I’ve literally seen children jump up out of a dental chair and run onto main roads, simply because a parent said “She won’t hurt you!” They instantly think “HURT!? Who said anything about hurting? I just wanted to know what her name is!!” So, please, leave the explanations up to us. Trust me. It’s for the best.
But I had a bad experience when I was young, I want to warn my child!
Yep. I get it. I’ve heard everything in my years, from dentistry being performed on dining tables, knees on chests while teeth are being yanked out (which is actually bullshit, but I won’t go into that one here) and little ones literally being strapped into dental chairs for extractions. Dentistry in the past could be brutal and painful. But it’s not anymore. Trust me. I can give a 3 year old a mouth injection of local anaesthetic without them even noticing, when it’s done correctly, with everyone on the same page. So please, save the horror stories for your mates. Your kids don’t need to hear it.
What WILL be done on the first visit?
Well, that depends completely on your child. Not you. Not me. Only your child. If they are super young, I might be able to stick a finger in their mouth and feel if any teeth are erupting, but at the first sign of protesting, I stop. If your child is a little older, I will meet them in the waiting room and invite them into the surgery for me to count their teeth, if they decline, I offer to just show them my room from the door. If they still decline, it’s a waiting room chat today and that's it. I will never force a child to do something they don’t want to do (unless it's a dental or medical emergency, then sometimes we have to make compromises). If your child greets me with a big smile and walks into my room happily, I will let them have a ride in the dental chair, show them a mirror and maybe a tooth counter (dental probe) and show them what happens in a completely happy, friendly and non confrontational way. If I get resistance, then that's it. Appointment over. Any decent oral health professional will do the same, and if they are forcing your child while they are kicking and screaming, then you need to find a new practice. If your child is still happy after having a ride in the chair, I will count the teeth, maybe give the teeth a little tickle (with my probe) and if they are SUPER happy, I will apply some fluoride. That’s it. We will build on the experience at each appointment, so there’s no need to rush things. Slow and steady wins the race.
"Please, save your horror stories for your mates. Your kids don't need to hear them"
Public vs Private?
Either. It doesn’t really matter. We are all trained at the same universities, so it doesn't matter who you see. As long as they are patient and good with kids, it really doesn't matter if you take your children to a public clinic or a private clinic. The only benefit that I see as a huge advantage, is that in private practice, we can see your child as often as necessary, so your child will become more familiar, more quickly, in a private practice. There are limitations to resources in the public sector, so sometimes they are limited with the recall systems available to them. But other than that, it makes no difference.
So there you have it. Get your child looked after young. Don’t tell them too much before they come in. Don’t tell them about your bad experience that happened in 1987. And don’t force your kids to do things they don’t want to do
Tell me about your experiences with your children at the dentist. What works for you and what doesn't, I'd love to here in the comments!
Love you all, Dee