When twins Alisha and Christina Copcsos turned three, they went for their first dental visit. "I had taken the girls to the pediatrician for their annual checkup and asked the doctor if it was time for them to see a dentist," recalls their mother Claire. "I told him how afraid I was of the dentist and didn't want my children to be afraid, too." That's when the doctor recommended a pediatric dentist in her area.
For Trey Wonner, that first dental visit did not occur until he was four—the age the family's dentist recommended to Trey's mom, Lorraine.
"The median age for first visits is about two-and-one-half years old, but I really like to see kids by age one," says pediatric dentist Michael Griesmer, DDS, in Boardman, Ohio. "It's not that we see a lot of problems in one-year olds, it's just a good idea to get the child acquainted with coming and start his dental health off right."
During the initial consultation, parents can expect the dentist to count their child's teeth and discuss cleaning, diet, frequency of appointments, and long-term dental care. "The first appointment is as much about the parents as it is the child," says Griesmer. "It helps parents know what to expect and begins familiarizing the child with going to the dentist."
Prior to Trey's first visit, he and his mother discussed the trip. "When we brushed his teeth, I would remind him of how important it is to take care of them. Then we would talk about what to expect at the dentist's office," says Lorraine. "Some of his friends had recently gone themselves, so it was a natural conversation." The most important thing Lorraine did, however, was to keep the topic positive. "I was careful not to say anything that would make him apprehensive."
"I bought the girls The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist book and read it to them all the time," Claire remembers. "Then we would talk about the visit and I would let them know they had to go every six months to keep their teeth shiny and healthy."
Parents play a key role in preparing their child for that first visit, says pediatric dentist Jim Wilcox, DDS, in Joilet, Illinois. "Be relaxed and at ease with your child. Any anxiety on your part will be sensed." Most important, avoid negative talk. "Don't use words that may create fear such as 'hurt,' 'shot,' 'drill,' 'x-ray,' or 'needle.'"
Griesmer agrees. "We have what we call bad words—'yank,' 'pull,' 'pinch,' etc. These words are not in our vocabulary and we don't want parents to use them either." Most people, he says, are pretty forthcoming if they have a negative perception of the dentist. If this is the case, do not to relay it to your child. "There is no reason for a child to be nervous about going to the dentist. If he doesn't think it is going to hurt him and hasn't had his mind preprogrammed, half the battle is won right there." Griesmer's advice? "Take a positive approach: 'The dentist is going to clean your teeth and they are going to look beautiful when he's done.'"