Establishing a health dental care routine can be challenging at times for toddlers, but worth the time and effort. Your child should begin a healthy dental practice when their baby teeth emerge, as these teeth will hold a place for their permanent teeth and decay in baby teeth can increase the likelihood of decay in permanent teeth.

By two and a half years old all of their baby teeth should be in, making it a great time to prepare for their first dentist visit. Many dentist actually recommend planning their first visit by their first birthday now, paired with two check ups per year and proper home care to establish healthy teeth throughout childhood.

As toddlers begin developing their sense of independence, guiding them through proper dental care can be challenging. It helps to begin a daily dental care routine as soon as their first teeth emerge, to make the practice a normal part of their day. They may also experience some fear about a visit to the dentist where they will encounter new faces, loud noises, and strange instruments. If you prepare with care, you can help overcome these fears and set them up for a healthy dental future!

Before Your Visit

Steps to prepare for your child’s first visit to the dentist

Girl and Boy brushing their teeth
Beginning to brush teeth early will help make dental care a regular part of their routine

  1. It’s important to start by finding the proper dentist for your child. While it may seem simple enough make an appointment with your own dentist, but unless they have an established focus on pediatric dentistry, you may want to do some research on finding a dentist better suited for working with children.
  • Start by asking your friends with children to see who they recommend and why they like them.

  • After narrowing down your list, you’ll want to schedule a visit to tour the office with your child. While there pay attention to how they interact with the young patients. Also be sure they allow parents in the room with children during their exam. Also see if the dentist stops the exam if the child is acting nervous, you’ll want to see they respond well to easing your child’s possible nerves. You’ll also want to keep an eye on cleanliness: Their dental tools should be wrapped in plastic, the staff should wear protective gloves and masks, and patients should wear protective glasses.

  1. Once you’ve picked your dentist and make an appointment, you should create a list for the dentist of any medical conditions and medications for your child. Be sure to provide the child’s pediatrician info in case the dentist needs to reach them for any reason.

  1. Make the dentist aware of any sucking habits your child has, from thumb sucking to pacifiers or bottles, the dentist should be aware as this can affect the child’s teeth and jaw. Also note if the child goes to sleep with milk or juice as these liquids full of sugar can cause tooth decay during sleep.

  1. Communicate regularly with your child about dental care and their upcoming appointment. Get them used to having a tooth brush in their mouths early, and describe step by step what they can expect at their visit. You may want to to bring them with you to your own dentist appointment, even if they will be going to a different dentist, just so they can see what the experience is like first hand.

What to Expect at the First Appointment

Preparing your child for what to expect at their first dentist appointment can make a world of difference

Dentist performing oral exam on young boy
From a happy introduction to learning about all the procedures, your child will feel safer the more informed they are about the visit.

  1. Introductions Begin by getting your child comfortable with their new dentist by formally introducing them at the start of their new visit or during their tour. A skilled pediatric dentist will explain how the check up will go, show and explain how all the tool work, and assure them they can sit with their caregiver or stop at any time if they feel nervous.

  1. Reviewing the Facts It’s helpful if the dentist uses oversized tooth models and cavity puppets, and models how to properly brush teeth for your child. They should also explain why proper dental care is important in an age appropriate manner. Ideally they’ll allow for questions from both you and your child.

  1. Learning the Equipment The equipment used, like the suction hose and spitting sink, can be intimidating and loud. The dentist should show the child what tools they will be using and how to use them to get them comfortable. They may also model how they will touch and interact with their teeth on a model or parent before entering the child’s mouth.

  1. Teeth Cleaning and Polishing The next step in their exam will be polishing the child’s teeth with a rotary brush. Be sure they provide the child with protective eyewear in case a tool slips or toothpaste sprays. The dentist should show the child how the brush works and let them get comfortable with it before putting it in their mouth, to put them at ease.
  2. Final Steps The final step will involve using the sucking straw and spitting to remove the excess toothpaste and saliva. As with the other steps they dentist should explain the tools and process before beginning. Afterwards some dentist will apply a topical coat of fluoride.  A top notch dentist should ask first if you are okay with them using flouride. Research does support that topical fluoride treatment can prevent tooth decay. If applied the child should not eat or drink for the first 30 minutes.

  1. Choosing a Prize Offering a reward after a visit can help get kids excited about future visits. They may even allow the child to pick a prize before treatment begins if they feel especially nervous, but always be sure to cut it short if the child is genuinely upset, and try again later. If that’s the case they just may not be ready for their first visit and forcing one can begin to foster a fear of the dentist that will be harder to overcome. Just try again in a few months.

At Home Dental Routine

Good dental health begins and is fostered at home

A healthy smile for kids begins at home

If you follow these tips you can foster a happy healthy smile for your child:

  • Try to curb or stop any sucking habits as soon as you are able. This can help prevent future misalignment and possibly braces.
  • Pick the right toothbrush, it should be soft and kid sized. Finding one with their favorite characters can get them excited about brushing.
  • Only use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste when brushing, to avoid over fluoridation also known as fluorosis. Also avoid fluoride toothpastes until the child is capable of not swallowing it.
  • Assist you child with brushing every morning after breakfast and every evening before bed. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry advises parents help their child brush their teeth until they are 8 years old.
  • Try to avoid giving your child very starchy or sugary foods to prevent tooth decay.
  • If your child has any trouble with brushing be sure at the very least the rinse their teeth with water to wash away any food particles.

With some research and preparation you can begin your child on a positive path to a healthy smile. Be sure to research the right dentist, prepare your child for their first visit and instill health dental habits at home.