Maj. David Kieser prepares to take dental X-rays of Deaveyon Moore during a Dunn Dental Clinic pediatric appointment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kimberly Spencer)

Many look forward to going to the dentist about as much as visiting the auto repair shop. With either, few are quite sure what they’re in for. The visit can result in pain, physical or financial, or both.  

Some folks are so squeamish about the dentist they don’t go. According to the Cleveland Clinic, between 9 and 15 percent of Americans say they avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear. However, going to the dentist is a must, the sooner the better. The onus is on parents to get their children started on a healthy oral hygiene journey.

“The best thing a parent can do is not scare the child,” says Dr. Elizabeth Abrams, a dentist with Manhasset Dental Arts who works with children. “Don’t say that the dentist pulls teeth. They will be afraid; that’s not a good beginning.”

Here’s a guide to help you get them there.

FIND A DENTIST

Many parents cherish their child’s pediatrician. Apply that same reverence to the dentist. Parents who search far and wide for a pediatrician should exert the same efforts to find a pediatric dentist. 

What’s a pediatric dentist? They are the pediatricians of dentistry. They have two to three years of specialty training following dental school and only treat children. They are primary and specialty oral care providers for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health needs.

While a general dentist can treat a child, having someone whose expertise is children is a bonus.  Parents know their little ones are in a kid-friendly environment. 

TAP LOVED ONES

Nothing puts parents at ease like a referral from a friend or family. But parents without personal references can ask their pediatrician or turn to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (www.aapd.org). Search its directory for a dentist in your area. 

“Sometimes parents go strictly by who takes their dental insurance,” says Dr. Benjamin Dancygier, founder and CEO of Valley Pediatric Dentistry in Jefferson Valley, N.Y. “This can backfire because that dentist may not be the best fit. There are online reviews and online parent groups where one can find candid accounts of experiences. Word of mouth is key!” 

START VISITING

Care for a toddler’s teeth should begin as soon as the child’s first baby tooth comes in. This typically occurs at 6 months but can vary both earlier and later.  

“Proper care and good habits can set the tone for your child’s dental health for a lifetime,” says Dancygier. “Take your child to a pediatric dental specialist as soon as their first tooth erupts into their mouth or by the age of 1 year.”

What should parents expect? He says at this early visit, a risk assessment is normally done to determine what specific recommendations are needed to best assist you in preventing tooth decay for your little one.

SET THE TONE

When a child is one year old, getting them in a chair may be easier because they are clueless. But as they get older, it can get trickier. How best to handle a child’s qualms? 

“Don’t relay any personal fears or memories of past experiences,” says Dancygier. “A positive attitude by you sets a good tone for them.”

He suggests reading books to your child or watching videos of good dental experiences made for children to get them ready. Avoid words like “hurt, pain, needle or shot,” which will scare the child before they set foot in the dental office.

Look for a dentist who is sensitive.  

“A general dentist can sometimes be intimidated by children. They get impatient and frustrated when the child starts crying,” says Dr. Abrams. “A pediatric dentist is used to working with children and knows how to approach them. They also have smaller instruments for their mouths.”

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