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Here’s how to give your kids an early ‘ and tear-free ‘ start to good oral health
The Canadian Dental Association recommends that babies see a dentist within six months of cutting their first tooth or by one year of age, whichever comes first. “A lot of parents are surprised by that,” says Dr. Diederik Millenaar, a pediatric dentist in Vancouver. “But the baby teeth are going to last, in some cases, up to 12 or 13 years, so we need to establish good oral habits.”
An early visit gives the dentist an opportunity to teach parents how to brush properly and plan tooth-friendly meals and snacks. And it’s a chance to spot – and fix – any trouble that’s brewing. In fact, the earlier children start seeing a dentist, the more likely they are to avoid dental problems.
Your kid will be more comfortable having her teeth checked in a dentist’s office if she’s already experienced it at home. Take time to peer into her mouth regularly. That can be hard to do with an infant, but try using the knee-to-knee technique: Sit facing another adult with your knees touching and lay your baby in the other adult’s lap to have a good look. At this age, even if she has no teeth, you should be wiping her gums gently with a clean wet washcloth after meals. You can also stimulate her mouth with a small, soft brush. All of this manhandling will prepare her for the professionals.
Bringing your baby to your own dental appointments may be a good idea, because it can get him familiar with the setting and staff. But first, consider this: Is your child going to share your dentist, or will he see a pediatric dentist who specializes in treating pint-sized patients? Is your dentist’s office kid-friendly enough to make him comfortable? Are you overly anxious when you have a dental appointment? If you are, it’s best not to subject your sweetie to your own angst.
Before your child’s first dentist appointment, give her an idea what to expect by talking about it in words that she understands – and that won’t terrify her. Telling her the dentist will “count” or “look at” her teeth is sure to go over better than hinting she has a mouthful of decay to be drilled out. Avoid adding “and it’s not going to hurt,” says Dr. Millenaar. “Pediatric dentists don’t like those statements because it proposes the possibility of something in the office hurting, and that only contributes to anxiety.” Play “dentist” with a compliant stuffed animal or doll, and read positive-sounding picture books about dental appointments.
Be sure to schedule all dentist appointments for times when your child will be comfortable, rested and in a good mood. “Children have patterns of good and cranky behaviour at different times of the day,” says Dr. Millenaar. “You don’t want to bring them when they’re hungry or tired.” For obvious reasons, avoid giving your kid caffeine or sugar before the visit. And if you can, arrive early. “It allows children to play with toys in the waiting room and get used to the whole environment.”
You don’t have to be over-the-top gushy, but do keep an upbeat attitude when you’re talking about the dentist, and on the day of the visit. Treat the appointment as something simple, routine and positive. “If you do that, your child is going to have a much, much better attitude towards the dentist and the whole dental experience,” says Dr. Millenaar. It may help to bring along a comfort item for your child, like a blankie or a favourite teddy.
Despite your best efforts, it’s natural for your one-year-old to get anxious or upset when he’s in the hot seat. In most cases, it’s likely to pass. But if he just won’t stop screaming, don’t force the issue. It’s better for everyone if you try again another time.
What if you want your child to see a dentist but financial constraints are holding you back? Some regions of Canada have help available. In Manitoba, dentists offer a free first appointment for children under three. Ontario’s Peel Region offers no-cost dental screening to kids who qualify. Check with your provincial dental association to find out what programs might be available in your area.