Whether your toddler has a mouth filled with teeth or only a few poking through, it’s time to start thinking about keeping his adorable smile healthy. Sure, baby teeth don’t hang around forever (they generally start to fall out to make way for adult teeth by the time your child is six or seven), but it’s still important to keep those tiny teeth — and gums — in tip-top shape while they’re saving the spots for grownup teeth. How do you make sure those pearly whites stay pearly? First teach your toddler to brush his teeth (or tooth) at least twice a day (use nonfluoridated toothpaste until your toddler knows how to spit out the paste fully). Next, book his first dentist appointment — if you haven’t already.
But before you assume that getting your toddler into the dentist’s chair will involve either a tantrum or bribery, remember that your child doesn’t harbor any ill will toward his first dentist — yet. After all, he hasn’t had a close encounter with The Drill. For him, his first dentist appointment could be as much fun as a stop at the local amusement park (the chair goes up and down, back and forth!). So keep your own negative feelings in check (if you have any) and let your child enjoy his first dental visit with the same enthusiasm as a visit to Grandma’s (without the candy, of course).
Here’s what you need to know about your tot’s first dentist appointment:
When to go. Most experts recommend that you take your child to his first dentist appointment within about six months of his first tooth’s arrival, or by the time he turns one. If, however, your toddler’s teeth are obviously discolored — you’ll probably want to take him to the dentist sooner rather than later.
Whom to choose. When it comes to picking a first dentist, many people take their tot to Mom and Dad’s dentist — and this is often a good choice, particularly if your dentist has experience with young children. You may also want to consider taking your child to a pediatric dentist — someone who has additional training in caring for children’s oral health. Another bonus to choosing a pediatric dentist: He’ll be prepared to deal with any squirming or hollering in the dental chair, and he’ll have a waiting room filled with distractions such as kids books and toys.
What will happen. Expect the first dentist appointment to be short and informal — more of a meet and greet for your child and the dentist. Depending on your child’s age and comfort level, you may be asked to hold him while the dentist pokes around his mouth. Or you may be asked to hang back in the waiting room so your toddler can have some quality time to get to know the dentist and staff on his own.
As for the business of inspecting your tot’s teeth, the dentist will check for decay and take a look at your child’s gums, jaw, and bite. The dentist or the hygienist may clean your child’s teeth and apply a fluoride preparation (particularly if there is a stain or a high risk of cavities) or he or she may save that for the next visit. Chances are, the dentist will talk to you about good oral-hygiene habits — and give you the chance to ask any questions you may have about toddler teething, thumb sucking, tooth-friendly foods, or anything else that pertains to your toddler’s oral health. You may want to bring a list of your questions to the appointment so that you remember them when you’ve got the dentist’s attention.
How often to visit. Based on how your toddler’s teeth look, your dentist will let you know when to make the next visit. Most experts recommend that toddlers see the dentist about every six months — as long as there are no major problems. So don’t forget to schedule your child’s second appointment on your way out the door!