Did you know the American Dental Association recommends taking your child to the dentist before their first birthday? By establishing a dental home early, you can decrease your child's risk for tooth decay and help dental visits become positive experiences. Though sitting still while a stranger pokes inside their mouth may not sound like a good time, a kid-friendly dentist can make oral exams and teeth cleanings fun for your child — and you!
How to Find a Dentist for Your Kids
Pediatric dentists complete specialized training to cater to children with advanced oral care needs or could benefit from a gentler touch. However, all general dentists train in pediatric dentistry, and many are comfortable treating small children, especially if their practice serves families. When searching for the right dentist for your child, look for these traits:
- Uses behavioral techniques. A competent dentist will recognize the needs of young patients — both dental and behavioral. When a child seems fearful or anxious, the dentist will employ special calming techniques to reduce any apprehension — especially in potentially painful situations. Ask the dentist how he manages a difficult child and decide if you are comfortable with those methods.
- Establishes comfort and rapport. A kid-friendly dentist will make both you and your child feel comfortable in the exam room. For your kid, this may mean telling a tooth joke or giving his equipment silly names. For you, this means providing the freedom to ask questions and thoroughly explaining the "how" and "why" of proposed treatment.
- Makes dental care fun. The best dentist for kids is simply a dentist who likes kids. He or she may talk in funny voices or sing silly songs. They also know how to teach children about teeth in an exciting way, giving them a copy of their x-rays or showing them the parts of a model tooth. Kid-friendly dentists usually reward a successful visit with a prize — whether that's a toy, sticker, or new toothbrush.
While the people taking care of your child's teeth make all the difference, sometimes the office can make just as much of an impression. Here are a few things to look for in your child's dental office:
- Kid-friendly space. Dental offices that treat lots of children should contain a special area in the waiting room just for kids. This area holds toys, games, books, and even tot-sized furniture. They may even have a treatment room designed just for children. Unique amenities like a television on the ceiling or a handheld gaming device also provide great distractions while waiting to see the dentist or getting certain treatments.
- Convenient location and office hours. Taking your child to the dentist shouldn't disrupt your whole day. Look for an office near your home, work, or child's school to minimize commute time. Also, check the office hours to make sure appointment times can work with your schedule. A quick call to the office can confirm protocol for scheduling appointments, typical wait times, and policies for cancellations and missed appointments. You can also ask about their procedure for making payments and accepting dental insurance.
- Emergency care. You never know when a dental emergency may arise, so make sure you understand how the office handles those emergencies after regular office hours and on weekends. Determine if you will have the means to contact your child's dentist or a covering dentist at all times.
A quick Google search or a few phone calls may be all you need to find an office that makes the dentist fun for your kid. But if you still feel stumped, start by talking to your friends and relatives. Ask where they take their kids if they've had a positive experience with the dentist and staff, and whether their kids like going there.
Once you've narrowed down your options, schedule some office tours. With a visit, you can gauge the friendliness and warmth of the doctor, dental hygienists, and office staff, as well as check out the waiting room and treatment rooms. This will also allow you an opportunity to pose any questions before making an appointment.
Your child's earliest dental appointments should be fun and easy-going to set them up for a lifetime of proper oral care. You can take steps to prepare your child for their first appointment and find the right dentist to make the whole experience enjoyable for both you and your child.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.