Still in diapers? Bring ’em to the dentist

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“What age do you start seeing kids for dental appointments?”

I get that question a lot, and parents are often surprised when I respond, “Before the first birthday.”

That answer may cause you to picture a dental hygienist using a polisher to clean a baby’s only four teeth under a bright light.

Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?

But infant and toddler visits are very different from those for older patients, and very important, too.

I love to see infants and toddlers in the dental office. The visits are quick and fun, and I love watching kids I started seeing as infants grow and change over the years.

Baby teeth have an important job to do. As kids learn to speak, teeth guide the tongue and muscles of the mouth, so kids can form words and sounds properly. The baby teeth also help permanent teeth come in correctly and in the right place.

If baby teeth get cavities and have to be removed too long before the permanent teeth come in, it can cause crooked permanent teeth. Regular dental care at home and at the dental office can keep the baby teeth healthy.

An important part of the infant/toddler dental appointment is providing parents with information and tools to take excellent care of their child’s teeth. I also apply an anti-cavity treatment to help teeth stay strong and resist cavities. Then, the most important part of the visit happens: picking out stickers and a prize!

Here are some dos and don’ts to consider in preparing for your child’s dental visits:

DO practice a dental visit by having your child sit in a reclining chair. You can use a flashlight to “check” his teeth, and he can wear sunglasses to keep the light out of his eyes. Have fun with it! You can even brush his teeth a little with a dry toothbrush and give him a sticker and a hug at the end of his practice appointment.

DO consider a morning appointment for young or anxious kids. Choose a time when your child is usually cheerful and well-rested. Kids can be crankier and less cooperative if their appointment is interrupting naptime or scheduled at the end of the day.

DO give your older child some space at dental visits. It is great when parents bring their child to my treatment room, let them get settled and visit with me briefly. When it is time to tip back the chair, the parent can snap a quick photo with their phone, then say, “Ellie, I will be in the lobby when you are done. You are going to do just great!” Then go have a cup of coffee and enjoy 15 minutes of alone time.

DON’T tell your child that if they eat too much candy, the dentist will have to fix a cavity using a big, scary needle and painful drills. This only causes kids to be afraid of the dentist, not candy.

These simple things can get kids off to a great start in the dental office, and set them up for a lifetime of healthy smiles.

Kim Glover is a dental hygienist at Broadway Family Dental Care in Milton-Freewater, online at bwaydental.com. She and her husband, Tony, have two young boys.

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