How to Find a 'Kid-Friendly' Dental Health Center

Did you know that children's risk for tooth decay starts when their first tooth appears – around six months of age? This is why the American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy site recommends taking kids to the dentist before their first birthday. By establishing a dental home early, your child's dental visits can become positive experiences, and provide the comprehensive, ongoing care necessary to prevent future dental conditions. Here are a few tips to help you find a dental health center (dental office) that's a good fit for you and your family:

Input from Friends

Start your search by talking to friends and relatives. Ask where they take their children and whether they're happy with their dental center. Have they had positive experiences with the dentist and staff? Do they feel confident that their child is getting the best possible dental care? And perhaps most important: Do the kids like going there? A trusted referral is often the way parents and children find their dental home.

Location and Office Hours

Look for a facility at a convenient location. If you have a busy household like most parents, an office near your home, work or your child's school works best. Ensure that they offer appointment times that fit your schedule, and consider calling the dental center to ask if the dentist treats children.

You'll also want to know the center's protocol for scheduling appointments. How long will you have to wait, and what is the policy for cancellations and missed appointments? In addition, don't forget to ask about the center's procedure for making payments and filing for dental insurance.

Emergency Care

You never know when a dental emergency will arise. So question how the office handles emergencies during and after regular office hours and on weekends. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) suggests that providing emergency dental care to patients is a fundamental responsibility of every dentist. You should therefore be provided means of contacting your child's dentist or a covering dentist at all times.

Office Tour

Don't hesitate to request an appointment for an office tour. By visiting the dental center, you can gauge the friendliness and warmth of the dentist and office staff and observe their interactions with other patients and children. While there, check out the waiting room. Dental centers that treat lots of children usually have special areas in their waiting rooms just for kids – with plenty of toys, games, books, and even tot-sized furniture. Another sign of a good health center is a special treatment room just for children.

Comfort Level and Rapport

Do you feel comfortable talking with the dentist about your child's teething, thumb-sucking or any other stage of growth you may be concerned with? A dentist who is compatible with you and your child will be open to explaining the "hows" and "whys" of proposed treatment. He should also solicit and answer questions, and offer educational material for you to read and apply at home. This may include complementing a kid-friendly appointment with a kid-friendly toothpaste, such as My First Colgate, which is fluoride-free and best for babies up to two years of age. Communicating with your child's dentist about these issues is vital to establishing appropriate dental health protocols for the whole family.

Behavioral Techniques

An effective dentist for children is in tune with the needs of young patients both dentally and behaviorally. When a child is fearful or anxious, pediatric dentists often use special calming techniques to reduce apprehension – especially in potentially painful situations. You'll want to ask the dentist how he manages a difficult child, and decide if you're comfortable with these methods.

As a parent, you want assurance that your child's receiving the best possible dental treatment, and that each visit is an upbeat experience. Finding a dental health center that's a good match for your child may take a little homework, but your little one's dental health and well-being are worth the effort.