As a dentist in a child-centered clinic, I often get asked by friends and family about what to expect at their child's first dental visit. Below is a list of most important Dos and Don'ts that every parent needs to know about:
The 5 Dos
1. DO bring your child to the dentist from young
• The recommended age to start taking your child to the dentist is 6 months to one year, after his first tooth has grown out.
• Plenty of options are available for your child's first dental visit in Singapore - Public institutions include: Health Promotion Board, KK Hospital, National Dental Centre and Polyclinics. Of course, you can also choose your trusted family dentist.
• There are numerous benefits of having check-ups done early. Firstly, you can get your child exposed to the dental environment from a young age. Secondly, your dentist will be able to give you appropriate advice, which ranges from prevention of tooth decay to milk bottle feeding habits.
• Prevention is better than cure! If you only visit the dentist when your child is in pain, he will definitely be fearful of future visits.
2. DO expose your child to dental-related stuff
• I'm a big fan of Kidzania in Sentosa, where your child can role play different jobs, including that of a dentist and patient. Kids not just have fun, but also get exposed to what it's like being at the dentist!
• I also love when children read storybooks/watch cartoons on "visits to the dentist" prior to their first dental visit. This prepares him for what to expect - dental chair, dental lights, examinations with dental mirrors etc.
3. DO be a role model to your child/bring a role model along
• Older siblings or cousins who've had a positive experience can come along as a role model too! I've little Jie Jies and Kor Kors staying beside their younger siblings, telling them how much they enjoyed their own dental experience.
• As parents, it would also be good for you to practise good dental habits, diet and oral hygiene together with your child. Try to be as involved as possible, instead of relegating these duties to a caregiver.
4. DO give a detailed history at your child's first dental visit
• I want to know all about your child's dietary habits - eg. is he snacking frequently, does he sleep while sucking on his milk bottle etc.
• I also need to know about your child's medical and dental history. For example, if he suffers from asthma, allergies to drugs/latex, asthma, heart conditions, and epilepsy. This enables us to anticipate medical emergency situations. Do also remember to bring along his inhaler, or any other medications needed.
5. DO work together with your dentist
• As parents, you are your dentist's BEST ally! We are complete strangers to your child at his first visit. The only ones they trust in the dental room is you.
• We have to work synergistically as a team to provide a holistic dental treatment for your child. Do pick up on our subtle cues and 'play along' with us.
1. DON'T let your own personal fear affect your child
• The most common phrase I get from my adult patients is "I'm scared of the dentist. I hate coming to the dentist." I understand that a visit to the dentist may not be the most pleasant of experiences, but unknowingly, you may be spreading this negativity to your child at his first dental visit.
• An example of this negativity may be something as subtle as telling your child "Don't worry boy, not pain one... No injection, don't scared ah..." - By saying this, you are instilling fear into your child that there may be pain involved.
• You should try your best to avoid the usage of negative phrases such as pain, drill, injection, scared, sharp and poke.
2. DON'T associate going to the dentist with something negative
• I've had parents tell their kids ''You see you see, if you don't brush your teeth, the dentist will scold you." Try not to associate us with scary figures or disciplinarians for when your child refuses to brush his teeth or misbehaves.
• Dental care should be seen as something that will help your child, and he needs to realise this in order to enjoy coming to the dentist. For example, I've had little girls who love to come for polishing just because they want to have "Teeth as white as Elsa's in Frozen."
3. DON'T bribe your child into seeing the dentist
• Just as you don't reward your child each time he goes to school, going to the dentist should be seen as something routine.
• Do try to talk about the dental appointment in a positive, matter-of-fact way. Either that, or be prepared for a collection of untouched toys in your storeroom.
4. DON'T force your child to go ahead with treatment
• Not all children will cooperate with dental treatment. It highly depends on individuals; some children may need to take more time to warm up. Even so, if the dentist only manages to do a basic examination i.e. look into his mouth, it's still hugely beneficial in enabling us to identify glaring problems.
• Secondly, it also acts as a form of acclimatization in letting your child get used to his dental experience, from simpler procedures like examination and polishing, to more complex ones such as fillings, extractions, root canal treatments.
• There's no need to insist that polishing/fillings are done at your child's first dental visit. This may backfire as he will be much more fearful of future visits.
5. DON'T schedule your child's visit during their feeding or nap time
• A hungry or sleepy child is an angry child. Likewise your child would naturally be a little more grumpy if they are feeling hungry or sleepy, and thus less likely to cooperate with us for their dental treatment.
I hope you found reading this list of Dos and Don'ts at your child's first dental visit useful.