Angie's List: First tooth means first visit to the dentist

Nip phobias by starting dental checkups early

TAMPA - Clark Rehme has horrible memories of childhood visits to the dentist. "I am going to be honest with you. When I was a kid I would always throw up when I went to the dentist. Actually it was pretty much a regular occurrence," he said. Rehme is not alone. According to the American Dental Association, three out of four people have a fear of the dentist, and 10 percent of those fears turn into phobias. But Rehme was determined not to pass those fears along to his little girl. "Reagan is almost 19 months and we decided to go ahead and bring her to the dentist at the age of 12-14 months."

A pediatric dentist is the best bet for your child's first few dental visit experiences. A pediatric dentist has the training and experience in working with kids. You'll want a dentist who is sensitive to your child's needs and can make the appointment as positive an experience as possible. Take your child to the dentist early to ease any fears and teach them good dental habits. Schedule your child for an oral health screening by her first birthday.

Angie's List founder, Angie Hicks, says there are a number of resources available when looking for a dentist for your kids. "When choosing a dentist for your children you want to do your research. Check their credentials. Talk to family and friends Check reviews and what other patients have said about them. Also, visit them. Take your child with you to make sure your child is going to feel comfortable when they do actually have their cleaning."

"The first visit is really just a wonderful time to introduce the child and the parent to what we call the child's dental home," said Pediatric Dentist, Dr. Charles Poland. "A dental home should be some place that the child and the parent feel comfortable. It should be accessible. It should be compassionate to the culture needs of the family. Most of all it should be where the child can learn about dentistry and be taught to be comfortable in a dental office without all the fears and apprehensions that frankly many parents still have."

Parents might feel that baby teeth are not important. After all, they're just going to fall out in a few years anyway. But dentists see baby teeth as vital to your child's overall health. Healthy baby teeth allow your child to chew and eat properly. They help your child speak clearly. They shape your baby's face and guide adult teeth into place. "About 30 percent of 3 year olds come to the dentist with tooth decay," Dr. Poland said. "Those are the kids you wish you'd gotten to at 12-15 months and had an opportunity to talk to the parents about successful preventative dentistry."

Dental decay in baby teeth affects your child's overall health. Of course, cavities can be painful. They can interfere with your child's ability to eat well. And dental disease can affect your child's overall health and development. Protect your baby from germs that cause tooth decay. Don't put food, pacifiers, utensils in your mouth and then in your baby's mouth. Many parents "clean" pacifiers by putting them in their mouths and then giving them back to their babies, but cavity-causing germs are easily passed to infants and toddlers this way. Germs can also be shared when parents test food or share utensils with their child. No matter how careful you are, your baby will get some of your germs, so keeping the germs down by taking care of your oral health is important.

Get Started with cleaning before teeth begin to come in. Gently clean your baby's gums with a clean soft cloth after each feeding. This will help your baby get used to having their gums (and later teeth) cleaned. As soon as your baby's teeth start to come in, begin to clean their teeth and gums with a small soft toothbrush and a smear of fluoridated toothpaste — about as big as a grain of rice.
Tips to Make Cleaning Easier

  • Try placing your baby's head in your lap to make it easier to brush. Gently stabilize your baby's head. Lift or lightly press your baby's lips away from the teeth.
  • Use a small soft toothbrush.
  • Brush every surface of your baby's teeth. Move the brush in tiny circles. You can use a clean damp cloth instead of a brush if you and your baby prefer.

Make brushing a positive experience. Sing songs or recite catchy rhymes with your child. You can even use a timer to let your child know when he or she is done brushing. Remember to use dental terms, like "toothbrush" and "toothpaste," to get your child used to hearing the words. Don't forget to model your own good brushing habits. Show your child that you practice the same healthy dental habits that you are encouraging your child to develop.

Choose your words carefully. You may lapse into describing a dental visit as an unpleasant obligation, but the words you use to explain the experience can either create or dispel anxiety for your child. Avoid using words like ‘drill,' ‘hurt' or ‘needle.' Keep the conversation positive and focused on the benefits of good dental health.  A pediatric dentist might tell your child he is going to shine his smile, count her teeth, or tickle her gums.

Dr. Poland adds, "They learn that this is a fun thing that can be made easy and not something to be fearful of. Presenting the right terms to the child is really important. For instance, it's not uncommon for us to 'count the teeth.' We talk a lot about 'pizza chewers,' 'bean biters,' 'chicken nugget nibblers.' And we don't clean teeth here. We shine smiles. It's all kept in a positive fun kind of thing."

And even though little Reagan screams and squirms her way through these early dental visits, her dad knows he's helping her establish good habits in the long run. "You just kind of grit your teeth and bare it and it goes quick. Afterwards she is always fine. She cuddles up to the dentist and they make sure to give her a sticker and she likes that."

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