There are many important moments in a child’s life – the moment they speak their first words, the first moment they crawl, the first moment they stand up and take their first steps. These are beautiful landmarks in every child’s life. It may seem strange to add the first visit to the dentist to this list of moments, but consider – this visit is the one that lays down the imprint for one of the most important relationships in a child’s life; not only their relationship with the dentist, but most importantly the relationship they have with their mouth and teeth, and consequently the health of their whole body. Most parents are aware the significance of this ‘first date’ and many of them understandably feel nervous in the lead up to and during their child’s first appointment. As important as this visit is, there is no need to experience trepidation, especially if you consider the following suggestions:
Go to a dentist you know, trust and have excellent rapport with. This point, on its own, is enough to give you the confidence that the first visit is held in the best of hands.
Do not load up that visit with expectations about how things “should” be or what “should” happen. It is too easy for well-intentioned parents to place pressure on their child (and the dentist) to live up to some sort of fantasy. In truth, a great first visit acknowledges how sensitive children are and allows them to be themselves. It gives them space to get to know the dentist and the process of dentistry. It may not go according to what mum and dad expect, but it will be exactly what the child needs.
Taking this a bit further… if your child needs time to get to know people, respect them and their timing. Sometimes it can take 3 or 4 visits for a child to settle in and become open and relaxed. Other children are completely ready to go from day one! Let them be who they are, and the long-term relationship will become very solid.
Avoid over prepping your child!! Too many times I have seen children burst into tears when they get into the dental room because they have been “coached” into a state of panic by their anxious mum or dad. Children are super smart and responsive to direction. And dentists know exactly how to guide them through the first visit in the most caring way. This is the time to go with the flow.
Do not be a side-line parent. We all know (and maybe are) the parents who yell instructions to their child across the soccer/footy field, netball court, etc. The dental appointment is the time to sit back and allow the dentist and their assistant to guide your child. Too many instructions from too many people just confuse and stress the child.
Be aware of your state of being. Are you truly calm and relaxed? Or are you very anxious and trying to put on a brave face? Children are highly sensitive and know exactly how you are feeling, even when you are putting on an award-winning calm performance. If you are anxious and cannot overcome it, consider whether the other parent or a trusted and loved aunt or uncle might actually be the correct person to take them to their dental visit. This is very respectful of yourself and the child, and by no means a sign of letting the child down. When you are responsive to what is truly needed by your child, you are supporting them to set the standard for the future.
Take heed of advice the dentist gives you. Dentists are an overflowing resource of all you the preventive tips need to support your child to be dentally healthy for their entire life.
It is really very simple to use this first date as the preparation for many valuable and ongoing dates with the dentist. The most rewarding part of our work as dentists is to "walk" beside a child as they develop into an adult with a positive and caring attitude to their dental health. Not only do we reduce their need for dental treatment, we are supporting them to have a healthy body and being. For more detail, talk to your dentist and find out how they like to approach children’s first visits. Fill out a contact form if you would like to connect with Dr Rachel directly.
And here is Dr Rachel talking about her favourite subject - introducing your child to the dentist.