What to Expect at Your Child’s First Dental Visit

By Dr. Perry Francis

I am a dad, and I am also a dentist. So I’ve seen the experience of a child’s first visit to the dentist from both sides of the chair. If your family is prepping for your child’s first dental visit, I’d like to offer a few words of advice.

First, what will happen at this visit depends a lot on when it’s taking place. Ideally, you’ll want to bring your child in before their first birthday, so they can gain confidence early. When it happens later than this, the fear of the unknown has had time to set in. And if they’ve had an opportunity to be influenced by friends and close relatives, they might have preconceived (and often negative) notions that we now have to help overcome.

Without dental insurance, you can generally have your 1-year-old seen for less than $100, which may include having their teeth cleaned. At Wild About Smiles, we feel so strongly about this appointment, that we offer a free first visit for babies ages 1 and under. At this appointment, we make an assessment of your child’s oral hygiene status and ensure there are no early signs of decay.

Don’t wait for pain

Unfortunately, an onset of pain is too often the motivator for the first dental visit. When we’re in pain, we’re apprehensive about what may need to be done to deal with the cause of the pain. This is even worse for children because the intensity of the fear is higher when they’re younger. If this happens with your child, it’s important for both parents to reassure them that we can minimize the pain through treatment modalities that run the gamut from general anesthesia and nitrous oxide to moderate sedation.

One of the hardest things to overcome is when a child has previously had treatment completed under challenging circumstances without one of these gentler methods being used. It’s important to let your dentist know of these situations either ahead of time or when you arrive at the office.

Attitude can drive the experience

There are children who are very laid back and aren’t bothered by much; with these children, all we have to do is “tell-show-do” and they’re usually completely accepting. On the other hand, there are children who are cautious or not accepting of new situations. These children may need a little longer to be comfortable with the new environment, and it can be helpful when there is an older sibling who models an ideal visit.

Parents who have had bad experiences in their own childhood can project their fears onto their children, whether they realize it or not, and this can lead to children coming to the office with negative expectations. If one parent is apprehensive, it can make sense for the other to be the one who brings the child to the dental appointments. Oftentimes it’s better for an apprehensive parent not to come in the examination room with the child, to avoid inadvertently sharing their fears with their child. A lot of things have changed in pediatric dentistry in the last few years, and I can assure you we have the ability to provide care for your children without pain or discomfort.

Habits matter

It’s important for dad and mom to recognize that what they do in the home environment has a significant impact on what happens in the dental office. Families who stick to a dental hygiene routine, no matter what, will have children who are more accepting of routines in the dental office as well. These children know that their parents will do what is best for them and therefore are more accepting of the process. These children often rise to their parents’ expectations in establishing good habits. There are also parents who validate the child’s fears by emotionally reacting to them, reinforcing the child’s fears.

These children may take a little longer to feel comfortable in the dentist’s office. The best thing you can do for your child is to bring them for their first dental visit by age 1. When this recommendation is followed and the routine check-ups are done every 6 months afterward, you’ll see that your child actually looks forward to coming to the dental office. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but give it a try. You just might be surprised!

Dr Francis Family photo

This content was provided by Wild About Smiles.
Dr. Perry Francis, his wife and two children have called Reno home for 34 years. At his practice, Wild About Smiles, his team specializes in dental care for infants, children, young adults and people with special needs. He has offices in Sparks (very close to Reno, given its convenient freeway access at 395 and North McCarran) and Fallon.

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