If your child has had the misfortune of watching Little Shop of Horrors, or you have, there might be some anxiety in the home around the idea of going to the dentist. The horror stories of pain and tools and laughing gas can make anyone uneasy.
But with a little preparation and forethinking, you and your child can have an easy trip to the dentist. After all it’s an important aspect of you and your child’s health.
Why is it important?
Going to the dentist can be a bad experience for most adults, never mind for children. Like going to the doctor or barber, your child might need some preparation and support to get them through it. But it is something that has to be done.
Your child should get accustomed to the dentist chair as soon as possible so that they don’t develop a fear of all the tools and people around them. After all, we’re asking to poke and prod inside their mouth: something they won’t face in any other setting.
Teaching a child to embrace seeing their paediatric dentist is an important part of oral hygiene, as children who don’t like the dentist will grow into adults that avoid going to the dentist. Children and adults who avoid the dentist are likely to have poor oral hygiene and will not notice when a small problem becomes a big one. The biggest oral hygiene problems like tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer will all go undiagnosed and untreated if your child ignores toothache because they don’t want to go to the dentist. Taking them early and often will get them used to the tools and environment of the dentist’s chair. The more comfortable they are as a child, the more likely they are to continue to have a respect for oral hygiene into adulthood.
And why is oral hygiene important? Well, what the dentist says to kids who don’t brush their teeth is true: all their teeth will fall out. An unhealthy mouth can cause problems in eating, speaking, and bad breath, which will be important for socializing. In turn, all these problems can lead to issues in self-confidence and might cause your child to withdraw.
As long as you enforce a routine of brushing, flossing, rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash and regular visits to the dentist, your child should avoid a lot of these problems. Dentistry has come a long way in the last couple of years, and for anything that a regular brushing routine can’t solve, there is likely to be a treatment to deal with it. Visit puredentistry.com.au to take a look at treatment options and advice on keeping your child calm while in the dentist’s chair.
How should you prepare?
Preparing your child for the dentist is as easy as talking to them. It’s likely your child knows nothing of the dentist outside of their appointments, so try to build excitement every time they have one. Speak with understanding if they are a little apprehensive, but you can perk them up by behaving like the dentist is a fun day out. Please give them the general idea of what to expect, though, so they aren’t met with anything they weren’t expecting.
But your child might not be the only one feeling apprehensive about the trip. If you have any questions or concerns, you should discuss them with your dentist but remember that your feelings towards the dentist differ greatly from yours. They’ve yet to go through kids tooth extraction or filling. They don’t need to know that this could be a painful experience, making them anxious. If you have anxieties around the dentist, be careful to not pass them on to your child.
Instead, offer support and stay calm while in the exam room. Children are intuitive creatures who can pick up on their parents’ anxieties and take them on board.
Before your child’s teeth come in, clean their gums regularly with a clean, damp cloth. When the first tooth appears, you can start brushing with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and a rice grain’s amount of toothpaste. You can up that to a pea-sized amount of toothpaste when your child reaches 3 years of age, and they can start spitting out their toothbrush.
As for the paediatric dentist, you should do things to inform them about your child’s oral hygiene. On the first visit, you should give your dentist your child’s complete health history: not just their dental history. A paediatric dentist may explain the benefits of dental treatment for children using happy gas or treatment under general anaesthesia (sleep dentistry for young children).
If you need to go for a restoration visit, like getting a cavity filled, let your dentist know if your child’s behaviour and attitude to the problem. Are they stubborn, defiant, anxious, or fearful? Your dentist will therefore be better informed on how to approach your child to get the job done. Watch how your child reacts and if you can predict a certain behaviour, let the dentist know.
However, some behaviours may be linked to their age. For example, 1- or 2-year-old children who are attached to their parents might be upset when taken from their parents for an exam. A 2–3-year-old might object initially but might be able to cope with a brief separation after some coaxing. Three-year-olds do not yet have the social maturity to handle being apart from a parent when having a dental procedure like a cavity filled, so it might be best to stay nearby. From four years old, your child should be able to handle sitting in another room to have their exams and treatments performed without you.
When should we take children to a paediatric dentist?
A child’s first visit to the dentist should happen within the first six months of their first tooth making an appearance and at the very latest when they are still under a year old. The first visits are usually about getting the kids used to the dentist’s chair and educating the new parent on how to care for their child’s teeth.
The dentist will offer advice on baby bottle tooth decay, which is when a baby experiences tooth decay due to long and frequent feedings of a sugar drink, like formula and breast milk. They will also offer advice on infant feeding practices, how to clean your child’s mouth, teething, pacifier habits, and finger-sucking habits.
Depending on your child’s age, your appointment might also include a full examination of your baby’s teeth, jaws, bite, gums and oral tissues, and it might even include a gentle cleaning if necessary.
From there on, children should visit their paediatric dentist every six months, just like their parents. Some dentists might recommend less time between visits if they foresee a problem. In follow up routine appointments, their dentist will check that their teeth are developing healthily, free of problems arising, do some routine maintenance and give advice on steps forward if they suspect you might need to consult an orthodontist, for example.
Visiting the paediatric dentist doesn’t need to be as scary as society has made it seem, and it certainly shouldn’t deter you or your child from seeing an expert if you think there is a problem. Instil in your child a good oral hygiene routine, and hopefully, the dentist becomes a boring outing that happens only once a year.