How to Prepare Your Child for Their First Dental Visit

In This Article

One of the most frequently asked questions I get as a Pediatric Dentist is, “When should I bring my baby in for their first dental visit?”

The Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child should visit the dentist when the first tooth appears or no later than their first birthday. While it may sound early, starting at that age will start your baby on a path for great oral health and prevent a number of dental problems that can occur during childhood.

The first visit gives parents a chance to become educated on how to properly care for their child's teeth and gives children a chance to become comfortable with the dental environment at an early age.

What to Expect

At the first visit, the dentist will examine your baby's mouth to make sure everything is growing and developing properly and will check for dental caries, tongue ties, and any signs of injuries.

The dentist will typically tell you everything you need to know to keep your child's teeth healthy including:

  • What kind of toothpaste and toothbrush to use
  • Brushing and flossing techniques
  • How to relieve teething discomfort
  • Which foods and drinks cause cavities
  • Answers to questions about pacifier use and thumb-sucking.

The examination and cleaning itself can take just a few minutes, but most of the time is spent on making the child feel comfortable and educating the parents. You should not expect the overall visit to take a long time.

The examination and cleaning itself can take just a few minutes, but most of the time is spent on making the child feel comfortable and educating the parents. You should not expect the overall visit to take a long time.

Choosing A Dentist

The first step is finding a Pediatric Dentist for your child. Pediatric Dentists have two to three additional years of training after dental school during which they extensively study child development, behavior management of patients from infancy to adolescence, and how best to work with special needs children.

Most Pediatric Dentists will aim to provide a fun environment with toys, stickers, TVs, games, yummy flavored toothpaste, and staff that enjoy working with children. When children are having fun, they gain trust in the dentist and staff, and will often enjoy their visits and look forward to their next appointment.

Where to Find a Dentist

To find a Pediatric Dentist in your area, you can Google nearby pediatric dentists, talk to other parents you know for recommendations, and ask your child's pediatrician or your own dentist. If you have dental insurance, you can search for a Pediatric Dentist through your list of participating providers.

Getting Ready For Your Child's Visit

When you have decided on an office, call them to schedule a visit. Young children tend to do their best in the morning when they are fresh and full of energy. Avoid scheduling appointments late in the day or close to nap times when children can be groggy or cranky.

You can inquire if it is possible for you and your child to come to the office for a tour and to meet the doctor before the actual day of the checkup. If your child has any special needs, discuss it with the staff member that schedules your appointment. The dentist will often want a little extra time scheduled for this.

If there is something in particular that keeps your child calm and happy (a song they like to hear, a video they like to watch or simply a color they like), let the dentist know so they can try to incorporate that into the visit.

Mental Preparation

Once you have an appointment scheduled, start preparing your child for the visit. Children learn best when they are having fun. You can practice giving their stuffed animal a checkup with a toy mirror.

Your child can bring that same stuffed animal to the dental visit to get a check-up by the dentist. Read books to them. I recommend:

  • Show Me Your Smile! A Visit to the Dentist (Dora the Explorer)
  • Dentist Trip (Peppa Pig)
  • Elmo Visits the Dentist by P.J. Shaw

You can also watch one of the many YouTube videos about going to the dentist, such as Daniel Tiger's.

Put Them At Ease

When talking to your child about their upcoming trip to the dentist, you can assure them that there are no shots at this visit and that the dentist will simply examine and brush their teeth and talk to them about how to keep their teeth healthy.

Let them know that the dentist will show them all of the tools and explain all of the procedures before starting. You can also plan a treat (not candy or junk food) such as a trip to the park or toy store should they need a little extra motivation.

Anticipating Follow Up Visits

Once you've completed your first visit, it's time to start preparing your child for their second visit! Discuss the visit with your child and remind them of the positive things that happened such as:

  • There were no shots
  • Nothing hurt
  • The toothpaste tasted great
  • The toothbrush tickled
  • The dentist counted all of your teeth and now we know how many teeth you have
  • You got prizes and a new toothbrush at the end
  • Next time we go there, we'll get these fun prizes all over again!

Preparing as a Parent

To prepare yourself, come on time, if possible a few minutes earlier to fill out any registration and consent forms that may be needed. Many offices have their registration forms on their website so you can fill them out in advance.

Give your dentist a complete health history of your child. If your child is taking any medications, have a list of the medications and dosages. Have your child's pediatrician's contact information available.

If you have any particular questions that you want the dentist to address, write them down so you don't forget to ask them if the dentist doesn't bring those topics up.

Be Patient

It is also important to have reasonable expectations of your child. During the visit, some children may open their mouths willingly and enjoy the experience, while some will not, just as some do not enjoy getting haircuts or wearing seatbelts. Luckily, with preparation and sticking to a regular recall schedule (typically every six months), the visits will get easier and more enjoyable each time.

Many children that may start out fearful or anxious can become patients that love going to the dentist once they've been a few times.  

Was this page helpful?