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Would you rather your child’s first dentist visit be to repair tooth decay, or would you rather they visit the dentist on a positive note for a simple, preventative checkup?

More often than not, if a child associates the dentist’s office with scary drills and painful shots, they will be reluctant to visit again.  We spoke with Dr. Scott Goldman who has three practices in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs to understand why it is essential that parents start their child’s dental visits at an early age.  “You don’t want the first time you’re coming in to the dentist to be for that emergency,” explains Dr. Goldman.  “You want to be able to come in when you’re calm and have your questions ready.”

Here are some tips from Dr. Goldman on preparing your child for their first visit so they are calm and relaxed.

  1. Take your child early

The American Association of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends children visit the dentist at age 1 or 6 months after the eruption of their first tooth.  “If a child gets a tooth at 11 months, then I probably recommend [they visit] 6 months after that,” explains Dr. Goldman.  The dentist will show your child proper brushing techniques and educate parents on proper oral care at home.  While most insurance plans cover the cost of dental visits, many pediatric dentists offer free visits for children under the age of two.

  1. Explain what will happen

Be sure to explain what will happen at the first visit, but be careful not to make the dentist office seem like a big ordeal.  Dr. Goldman advises to “let [your child] know that mom and dad [also visit] the dentist and it is part of growing up and being a ‘big girl’ or a ‘big boy.’”  Let your child know that on their first visit the dentist is simply going to count and brush their teeth and that if they do a great job there will be a prize at the end of the visit.

  1. Get them a book

Dr. Goldman recommends buying your child a book to prepare for their dentist visit, like Dora the Explorer’s Show Me Your Smile!: A Visit to the Dentist.  The book chronicles Dora’s dentist visit in a child-friendly way and is available on Amazon for just $3.99.

  1. Avoid mentioning shots

Most children do not know about shots until the parents mention it, so Dr. Goldman advises that the word “shots” is never mentioned or “the only thing the kid is going to hear is ‘shot’ or it ‘hurts.’”

  1. Let them cry, it’s normal (A little tear is OK!)

“I always let the parents know:  a few tears is ok and  normal, don’t [be afraid] to bring your child to the dentist because you’re afraid they are going to cry.  The children who start young learn to enjoy seeing the dentist and by the second or third visit they are running through the door and excited to see the dentist.”  He points out that the child who has their first visit at an older age of 5 or 6 is usually the one with the most cavities, so bring them early!

Aside from the tips Dr. Goldman provided, your child’s dentist is also trained to ensure comfort at the office.  While Pedodontists have gone through a 2-3 year long residency program in pediatric dentistry, many general dentists are qualified to see children and comfortable treating children as well.

If you are looking for a dentist in your area, search for one using DentistUSA.com and select “Childrens Dentist” on the drop-down menu to filter for general dentists and pedodontists who see children.  Many dentists offer printable coupons for free dental visits for children under a certain age to encourage they see a dentist at the age recommended by the AAPD.

Dr. Scott Goldman attended the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign for his undergraduate studies and the Univesity of Illinois at Chicago for dental school.  Following dental school, he completed a two year post-graduate specialty training program at the University of Illinois at Chicago pediatric dental program.  His practice is limited to the treatment of infants, children, teens and those with special needs.  In his spare time, Dr. Goldman is an avid hockey player and enjoys spending time with his wife and son.

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