What’s the best age for children’s dentistry?
Parents sometimes dread taking their kids to the dentist, but it doesn’t have to be traumatic for anyone. Often parents’ fear is born out of their own experience when they were kids. But children’s dentistry has changed a lot since then.
Here are my top tips for making your trip to the dentist as smooth as possible.
Start them young
I’m often asked about when it’s appropriate for children to start seeing a dentist, and how often they should visit. The bottom line is that the earlier you bring them in, the better.
A lot of parents make the mistake of only bringing in their kids when they have a dental problem. This means that they start associating a trip to the dentist with something unpleasant, and it becomes a stressful situation for the child and parents. The best way to avoid this is by getting your kids comfortable with the dentist well before any dental issues arise.
Some dentists say that you should bring kids in when they start having their first teeth. Personally, I think that’s just a little bit too young. In my view, three or four is a good age to start bringing them in.
By bringing them in around this age, they’ll become familiarised with me, the dental chair and the dental surgery. I think a lot of the older generation have been scarred by their trips to the dentist simply because their parents didn’t follow this approach. In my view, it’s important on a psychological level to make children feel that going to the dentist can be a fun thing and letting them know that it’s not scary: this sets the tone for the rest of their dental life.
Don’t teach them to be scared of the dentist
I know it’s done with the best of intentions, but parents often instill fear in their kids about going to the dentist or use dentist as a threat.
How many of you have have been guilty of saying something like, “If you don’t brush your teeth, I’m taking you to the dentist,” or, “If you eat too many lollies, you’re going to have to go to the dentist”, or, even worse, “If I have to bring you to the dentist, the dentist is going to tell you off”.
No wonder kids are scared! My caution here is to be careful about how you present going to the dentist to your kids.
First time in the dental chair
The first trip to the dentist is a big deal, so I do my best to put kids at ease. Typically, this starts by bringing kids into the surgery and saying, “I’m going to count your teeth and make sure they’re nice and healthy”. The next bit is pretty fun: we let kids have a ride on the chair and give them a tour of their mouth using an intraoral camera: they love seeing their teeth up on the screen and getting to see what we do. All of this means that children become accustomed to the feeling of being in the chair, getting an oral check-up and having dental tools in their mouth.
Sometimes for first visits, I won’t even need to do a clean. Usually, when kids are so little they don’t need a clean and polish.
Don’t undo your good work: keep coming back regularly
It’s so important to bring children back regularly, in fact, every three to six months is a good idea, because if you leave it for a year or longer, kids will forget what it’s like going to the dentist: specifically, they’ll forget that’s it’s not horrible! By keeping up a regular schedule of checkups, we remain a familiar face and the experience stays as fun as possible.