The best way to keep your child’s teeth clean and healthy is through prevention! That means seeing the pediatric dentist early on and practicing good dental care from a young age. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists recommends parents bring their children to the pediatric dentist no later than the age of one or by the time the first tooth erupts, whichever comes first.

At Hacienda Pediatric Dentistry, we understand going to the dentist can be scary for kids (and adults, too!) because it may be a new, confusing environment with strangers. However, the pediatric dentist is essential to maintaining the health and integrity of your child’s teeth and jaws as they are growing up. For parents who are not sure how to choose a family or pediatric dentist, check out this piece from Dental Studio of Pasadena that has advice about how to choose your dentist. Once you’ve decided on the right doctor, the first appointment is vital to establishing trust for a positive dentist/patient relationship going forth. To make it a little easier, here’s what you and your child should know about your first visit to the pediatric dentist.

When to Make an Appointment

The age of one is a good time for parents to see the pediatric dentist because it’s around the time teeth are about to erupt. Not all children mature at the same rate, but most babies’ teeth come in between 6 – 12 months of age. Usually, the central incisors grow out first, then the lateral incisors, canines, and finally molars.

Even if your child doesn’t have teeth yet, the age of one is a good time to get into the routine of dental care. Gums, jaw, and bone development are just as important as tooth development. At the first visit, the pediatric dentist will evaluate the teeth (if there are any), supporting structures, and your child’s bite. After that, your child should be going to the pediatric dentist at least every six months for checkups. Your child may need more appointments than that depending on their unique case, but in general, going to the dentist twice a year is a good place to start.

We also encourage parents to bring their children to the pediatric dentist’s office early on, so they can establish a dental home sooner. A dental home is a place where your child can feel safe and comfortable receiving dental care. If your child forms a close patient-doctor relationship at a young age, they won’t be afraid to visit in the future.

Children may develop dental anxiety more easily when they visit the dentist later in life. If their first experience at the dentist is to treat a painful dental problem, they may associate the pediatric dentist with pain and fear. It’s also possible to develop dental anxiety from peers or by consuming negative media about the dentist. Fear of the dentist can lead to bad dental care and missed or difficult dental appointments, leading to cavities or gum disease.

Why Your Child Needs a Pediatric Dentist

Baby teeth need to cared for because they serve essential functions for eating, speaking, and smiling. They also hold space for adult teeth and stimulate bone growth. Here are a few ways the pediatric dentist can help ensure your child will grow strong, healthy teeth as they grow up.

  • Nutrition counseling: The pediatric dentist can show you what foods and drinks are best for your child, so they get all the nutrients they need to grow strong teeth. As your baby’s teeth come in, you’ll be able to gradually incorporate more solid foods into their diet. Though a lot of baby formulas and foods look the same, you’ll want to choose those that contain less sugar and more vitamins and minerals.
  • Dental care guidance: Even if your baby only has one tooth, you can start brushing! The pediatric dentist will show you a special type of finger brush or soft bristle that you can use to gently remove plaque from your baby’s teeth after meals.
  • Speech development: The pediatric dentist will keep an eye on how the teeth, mouth, and jaws are developing. If your child is having trouble speaking, there may be a physical impediment. Your pediatric dentist can judge whether it’s temporary or needs treatment.
  • The pediatric dentist can identify and treat dental problems at checkups, so any underlying issues don’t get any worse. After your child grows more teeth, they will also be able to perform deep cleanings that most people aren’t equipped to do at home.

What to Bring

Before heading to the dentist’s, make sure you’re cleared with your insurance provider. At Hacienda Pediatric Dentistry, we accept most insurance policies, but go ahead and call ahead of time to check. You will have to fill out paperwork, most of which is available on our site, with pertinent information, like your address, insurance, and contact information.

The pediatric dentist will also need to know your family’s oral health history to properly assess your child’s dental health. Certain issues like periodontal disease can be hereditary. The dentist will need to know this when they are evaluating your child’s teeth for permanent teeth eruption patterns, cavity development, oral habits, etc.

What to Expect

First, your pediatric dentist will ask you and your child (if they can respond) a few questions about your oral health, as mentioned earlier. Now is the time to voice any concerns if you have them! It’ll help the dentist when they’re examining your child’s teeth.

Afterward, the dentist will perform a dental exam. For babies without teeth, this will be pretty quick, but if your child is a little older, they may need to take dental x-rays. Since the underlying bone structure and jaw development cannot be seen normally, these x-rays are necessary. It’s also easier to identify decay and cavities with x-rays. After that, the pediatric dentist will conduct a dental cleaning. They will remove any hard-to-reach tartar and plaque buildup. For children who are old enough, the dentist can also give a fluoride treatment to remineralize the teeth. This usually lasts 30-40 minutes. If your child seems anxious, the pediatric dentist will explain the process and show your child all the kid-sized tools to be used. Our doctor is trained in behavior management and communication with children.

How to Prepare Your Child

Before your appointment, there are ways to prep them for the first appointment to the dentist. Kids often begin understanding parents at an earlier age than most people think they do. Have a positive attitude about the dentist’s office and your kids will follow suit! Speak about it calmly and consider your facial expressions and body language when you do. There are tons of children’s books and videos that can show your child an accurate depiction of who the dentist is and the dentist can benefit people.

It’s also helpful for a lot of children to visit the pediatric dentist’s office before their appointment. This gives them time to familiarize themselves with the staff and environment, so it’s not so overwhelming later on. We have games and puzzles in our waiting room that patients are welcome to use. Getting your child’s mind off the dentist by distracting them with a fun activity can help calm them down.

The best way to prepare your child for the dentist’s office is to help them with their oral hygiene routine. Brushing teeth ten times before seeing the dentist won’t do much, but carefully brushing and flossing every day will definitely the dental exam much easier. Kids are usually afraid of “scary” procedures, like filling cavities and root canals. They may even feel ashamed because of their teeth. To avoid this, encourage them to care for their teeth every day, so they’re proud to show the dentist their shiny teeth!

Once your appointment is over, positive reinforcement is always appreciated. Give your child a high five and let them know how proud of their mature behavior you are. We don’t recommend rewarding your child with any sugary sweets, like ice cream, but you can let them choose their own new toothbrush afterward or plan a fun activity! They’ll associate the dentist with fun and happiness, reducing their anxiety for the next visit.

If your child needs a pediatric dentist, give us a call! Our pediatric dentist at Hacienda Pediatric Dentistry loves working with children and she’s always excited to meet new patients. We will do our best to provide your child with a positive experience at our office. It’s our mission to help our patients achieve strong, healthy teeth for years to come!