How to Prepare for Your Child’s First Visit to the Dentist

Good dental care starts at an early age. The earlier the first dental visit, the better the chance of preventing long term dental problems. Your child’s first dental appointment can serve as a get-to-know-you session, allowing them to become familiar with the dentist and the dentist’s office and equipment. A dentist used to treating children won’t just talk to you about dental health; he or she will also talk to your child in ways they can understand.

Many dentists recommend a “first visit by first birthday,” though some dentists think a child should be seen as soon as the first tooth comes in. (A big concern for babies and children is Early Childhood Caries, also known as baby bottle tooth decay or nursing caries. Many parents aren’t aware that tooth decay can be caused by nursing, and that there are precautions that can be taken to avoid this issue.)

If you have a general dentist you’re satisfied with, check to see if he or she treats children. If your dentist does not treat children, ask for the names of some dentists who do. Also, get his or her opinion about the pros and cons of having your child see a pediatric dentist vs. a family dentist.

In general, the same considerations should apply when choosing a dentist for yourself and choosing a dentist for your child. There are, however, some additional considerations:

  • Does the dentist have a special interest in treating children? Pediatric dentists specialize in treating children, but many general dentists treat children as well.
  • Is the waiting room equipped for children, with toys, books and kid-size furniture?
  • Will you be taught about your child’s tooth development, the causes and prevention of dental disease, and appropriate home care?
  • Will your child be taught about caring for his or her teeth in ways he or she can understand?
  • Find out the dentist’s philosophy on sealants. Sealants shut out food particles that can get caught in the teeth and cause cavities. They work by filling in the crevasses on the chewing surfaces of the teeth.

If you are anxious about dental visits, try not to communicate your anxiety to your child. Try also to schedule appointments for young children in the morning – children tend to be more cooperative and attentive, and there is a lesser chance of having to wait if you have one of the first appointments of the day.

Once you have a dentist that both you and your child are satisfied with, it’s important to continue having regular checkups, even if your child never has a cavity or other problem. For most children, teeth can be protected from decay by daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste, limiting snacks and drinks with lots of sugar, and having regular dental checkups. Understanding what can increase a child’s risk for tooth decay, along with early examination and preventive care, can protect your child’s smile now and in the future. Plus, regular visits help your child develop good life-long dental care habits.

This article is based on information gathered from The American Dental Association and The Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

Helpful Links

American Dental Association
The ADA website offers tips for dental health and answers to frequently asked questions.

American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
This site provides information on pediatric dentists and find-a-dentist tools.

The American Dental Hygienists’ Association
The ADHA site has news and information on dental hygiene and hygienists.

MetLife Dental
Need a dentist? This site allows you to search for one in your area. Choose from the more than 100,000 participating dentists in the MetLife PDP network.