While the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children should see the dentist at age one or when the first tooth erupts, many parents wait to bring their children for their first dental visits for a variety of reasons. Reasons can include not being aware of the recommended age, thinking that since these are just "baby teeth," they don't have to be closely monitored, or their own dislike or fear of the dentist. Visiting the dentist at a young age is very important, because not only can a dentist make sure that all of your child's teeth are growing in properly, but they can offer advice and guidance about how to properly care for young teeth. Sure cavities are something you want to address, but with good preventative care, your child will have less problems as they get older.
Once you've decided to bring your preschooler for the first dental visit, you'll want to talk talk to him about it ahead of time. The dentist is often perceived as a scary place for little ones (big ones too!) so a little advance work will go a long way to making sure the visit is a success. Here's how.
Consider a pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentists are qualified to treat and care for children's teeth. So not only have they undergone specific training for giving medical attention to kids, they are especially tuned in to making a dental visit (the first and the ones that come after) not just pleasant, but fun too. Think colorful treatment rooms, lots of prizes for "good" patients, movies while kids are being examined, video game systems, and much, much more. Not to mention patient, friendly staff members who are well-versed in all sort of techniques to make sure your little one is happy and relaxed. That's not to say that a regular dentist won't be caring and accommodating to your preschooler, it's just that pediatric dentists only treat children under 18, so they are more prepared to cater to that age group.
Tell your child what's going to happen. Talk to your preschooler about why going to the dentist is so important and what is going to happen. The dentist's office can be a scary place, when you think about all the shiny silver instruments and bright lights that can be found there. Explain what a dentist's job is and what he or she will do while you are there. Try reading books about going to the dentist (Just Going to the Dentist by Mercer Mayer [compare prices] is a good one, or your local librarian should be able to recommend others), to help your child put the visit into context. These coloring pages could also be helpful too.
Curb your own anxiety. Let's face it, many grown ups have a lot of anxiety and dread about visiting the dentist. So when talking to your little one about it, be sure to keep your own feelings out of it. In fact, if you bring your child to a pediatric dentist, it's very likely that her experience is going to be completely different from your own. Talk about the positive things that are going to happen -- that the dentist is going to count how many teeth you have, that the dentist is going to see what a good job you do caring for your teeth, and that when you leave the dentist, your teeth are going to be so nice and shiny!