Primary teeth start to erupt in children from the age of six months. The primary dentition is complete by approximately two and a half years of age.
The enamel of primary teeth is less densely mineralized than the enamel of permanent teeth, making them particularly susceptible to caries. Primary teeth are essential tools, both for chewing and learning to talk. They help to break up food into small pieces, thereby ensuring efficient digestion. A full set of teeth is an essential prerequisite in learning correct pronunciation.
Primary teeth also play a vital role in the proper alignment and spacing of permanent teeth; it is therefore imperative that they are well cared for and preserved, until normal ex-foliation takes place.
Dental fear is a frequent problem in pediatric dentistry.
Children experience many new things while growing up: their first tooth, first words, first steps, first birthday, and first haircut. Parents should be prepared for every step of their child’s new life experiences, including dental visits.
Several factors contribute to a child’s fear of his or her pediatric dentist, including the fears and emotions of the parents. A mother or father’s dental fear plays a huge role in their child’s fear of the dentist, because parents naturally transfer their fear of things onto their young. Because a parent’s dental anxiety can so greatly influence their child, it is important for parents to adopt ways of controlling their natural behaviour in a dental office.
Other factors that may lead to dental fear in children include:
- Fear of pain or history of a painful experience
- Sight or feel of dental instruments
- Recurring thoughts
- Inadequate preparation for the first dental visit
How can parents make the initial dental appointment easier for the child?
Avoid planting unnecessary fears
Parents should definitely avoid telling their children about their own apprehensions, and make every effort to prepare them for dental visits through positive information on what to expect. Dental office information and “pre-visits” can get the ball rolling.
Always speak positively about dentists and going to the dentist. Make sure to convey that a dental visit is a good thing! Hearing parents, siblings and friends speak negatively, even the slightest comments or tone of voice, can make appointments more difficult for your child. You are your child’s greatest hero and positive role modelling is one of the most important facets of a positive visit.
Sometimes parents are more apprehensive than the kids, and inadvertently make things worse. It scares the kids and they never want to come. Even if your child really has some complication with their teeth, the worst thing a parent can do is get visibly upset about it. You really do your child a disservice!
Preparing for the first appointment
Making a child’s first visit to the dentist easy and fear-free starts long before walking into the office; it starts with how parents set the stage at home. Start your child’s visit at an early age. Children can visit the pediatric dentist for their first examination as early as their first birthday, and their doctors are often experts in providing effective dental care while navigating scary situations. Dental offices are designed to help children have a comfortable and relaxed dental visit. Pediatric dentists often apply medications to alleviate dental fears on the spot, such as nitrous oxide or oxygen inhalation.
Parents should bring their young children to their own cleaning appointment, so the child can see what happens to Mom or Dad.
Children love to play and pretend. Practicing a visit to the dentist at home can be a source of pleasure and a wonderful time of togetherness for you and your child, all the while encouraging a positive impression of the subject.
Explaining things to your child
If you don’t understand a procedure or what the dentist might be doing for your child, don’t try to explain it to your child; let the dentist do the explaining of what’s actually going to happen.
However, it is beneficial to explain the basics of a dental visit, such teeth counting. Practice counting your child’s teeth. Let your child know that the dentist will do the same. Lay your child back with their head in your lap. When on their back, have your child practice opening wide for the dentist. Use props such as toothbrushes; spoons make a perfect “dental mirror.” You can even let your child pretend that they are the dentist examining and counting your teeth. In this way, you are providing your child with enough information to prepare for their first dental visit.
Explain that you think it is fun to go to the dentist and that having your teeth “polished” feels good to you.
Let your child know that you went to the dentist as a child, and even that you sometimes received a special prize from the dentist for having a great visit! Reward and praise your child for every dental appointment. The fact that your child wants to please you is your most effective tool in providing your child with a positive dental experience.
Remaining positive during the visit
Trust your paediatric dentist and the dental staff. Your child will sense if you mistrust or argue, and will transfer that to their dentist. Be positive, and have a positive attitude for your child.
Answer a child’s questions without giving graphic details. Paediatric dentists are trained to explain procedures to children in ways that are less intimidating; let them handle more complex queries.
Be a silent observer. This allows the dentist to maintain proper communication with your child, and allows your child to listen to just one voice. Avoid saying “it is not going to hurt,” and try not to use words like “needle” or “shot.” Your child may actually focus on this one word and expect it to hurt! Normally children will listen to their parents, instead of the appropriate member of dental team, and may not hear what our doctors and assistants are saying. You may also be giving them incorrect or misleading information. It is best to let the doctor and staff do the talking, except for your encouraging words when appropriate!
Many children may try to control the situation in ways that they have found to be successful for them at home or in the past. “Acting out” is normal, but is not acceptable during dental treatment appointments. Some children may do better without the presence of the parent. If the doctor feels that may be the case, you may be asked to step away from your child’s view for the benefit of your child.
If you feel uncomfortable at any time, please let the dentist know. Many times your personal memories of past dental experiences may cause you to be uncomfortable with what staff needs to accomplish during the appointment. They can work together to decide if completing treatment that day is best for your child.
Similarly, they reserve the right to stop treatment at any time if the doctor determines that is the best and safest option for your child. If the appointment is shortened by the doctor for any reason, he will temporize any incomplete treatment and re-appoint your child on a day that is better for your child.
By following these guidelines, you will help the dental staff deliver the highest quality care for your child, and inspire them to have confidence in themselves at the dentist’s office.