Is It Time For the Dentist?

Hey there mamas,

I’ve got a son who’s almost eighteen months and I want to know when I should take him to the dentist. Also, what will the dentist do? I don’t want the experience to be traumatic. I’m scared of the dentist myself and don’t want him to be.

Thank you, Olivia

Great question, Olivia. And, by the way, I share your fear of dentists. When I was a child, mine didn’t believe in anesthesia (God knows why). The water in those days wasn’t flouridated; they didn’t have sealants; and I was a kid prone to cavities. As a result, I ended up with lots of fillings and lots of anxiety about the whole thing.

But enough about me! The point is, some dentists treat kids no differently than adults, but they ARE different. That’s why I would suggest you search out a pediatric dentist in your neighborhood before you make that first appointment.

They are the pediatricians of dentistry and complete two to three years of specialty training in children’s dentistry beyond the regular four years of dental school. Typically, they limit their practice to infants, children, and adolescents (including young people with special needs) but some rare and wonderful ones will see the whole family.

Dr. Barbara Lynch, D.D.S., recommends that parents bring their child in for his or her first visit no later than age three, although some dentists recommend it by the first birthday. The purpose of the first visit is really to give the child an introduction to the office and equipment and, of course, to meet the dentist and begin to establish a relationship.

The dentist may also use this time to talk about how to prevent cavities and go over teeth-cleaning methods with you.

Typically Dr. Lynch will talk to the child about what she does, let him take a ride in the chair, examine himself in the mirror, sip some water and spit it out into the swirling bowl, and look at and hold some of her tools.

If the child is relaxed and up for it, the dentist might count his teeth or do a very short, cursory exam. But mostly, the first visit with a pediatric dentist is intended to introduce him to the office and the dentist in a friendly, non-threatening way. Stickers or a toothbrush are often offered as a reward for coming.

So I would recommend that you get on the ball now and start looking for a good pediatric dentist in your area. Then go ahead and schedule the visit anytime before he hits three.

In the meantime, keep up a good dental routine with your son. Use a soft, infant toothbrush with a tiny bit of flouridated toothpaste and gently brush his teeth each morning and night.

In general, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests that parents should start gently cleaning their child’s gums from birth on by wiping them with a wet washcloth after each feeding.

And remember, no putting Junior to bed with a bottle! It may make things easier short-term but it can create cavities even in teeth that haven’t erupted yet.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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