First visit to the dentist

So when should kids first visit the dentist? Sooner than you may think! We take a look at what age you should take kids to the dentist, choosing a dentist and things you can expect from their first visit.
So when should kids first visit the dentist? Sooner than you may think!

We take a look at what age you should take kids to the dentist, choosing a dentist and things you can expect from their first visit.

Milk teeth may not be permanent, but it’s essential that they are well looked after from the outset as they are extremely important for a number of things including:
  • learning to chew
  • healthy jaw growth
  • speech development
  • preparing gums and spaces for adult teeth to grow into

Looking after your child’s milk teeth and taking them to the dentist at a young age is also the best way to prevent problems such as tooth decay.

Dental care in New Zealand

In New Zealand it is recommended that you enrol your child at your local school/community dental clinic before their first birthday and any time up to the end of their Year 8 schooling.

However early enrolment provides the best opportunity to meet your child's oral health needs from a young age.

Ideally your child's first visit to the dentist should happen around their first birthday, or as a general rule, 6 months after their first tooth appears or sooner if their teeth are discoloured.

This may seem a little too early, but a session with a dentist around this time is good preventative dental care.

A range of basic preventive, treatment and specialist dental services are available free to children in New Zealand up until the age of 18.

Contact your local District Health Board with regards to the exact enrolment age and for more details on oral health care as each DHB tends to vary slightly from area to area.

Choosing a dentist for your child

Selecting a dentist for your child is a personal choice.

You might want to look up details of your local school/community dental clinic who are used to working with young children and checking their teeth, or you may prefer to contact a local dental practise or your own dentist.

Before enrolling your child find out how child-friendly they are and what paediatric services they offer. For instance:
  • Do they take on child patients?
  • Are they tolerant and able to cope with squirming or fidgety toddlers and preschoolers?
  • Is there a kids’ corner or a play box in the waiting room to keep them entertained before your appointment?
  • Are there posters for/about children on the walls?
  • Do they give stickers out to children after their appointment?

Ask friends, neighbours and your health visitor for local recommendations.

What will happen at your child’s first check up?

Many first visits are nothing more than introductory icebreakers to acquaint your child with the dentist and the practice. They’re likely to be a short, relaxed appointment of no more than 15-30 minutes.

Ideally schedule the appointment early in the day when your child is at their most alert and fresh.

If they’re old enough to understand, talk about the visit beforehand and provide lots of reassurance to help build their trust in the dentist. This will prove invaluable if your child needs to be treated later for any dental problems.

For children under 36 months, parents may need to sit in the dental chair and hold their little ones during the examination.

Sometimes parents of older kids may be asked to wait in the reception area so a relationship can be built between your child and the dentist.

During the appointment the dentist will want to have a look at your child’s teeth and depending on their age, will be checking for:
  • How many baby teeth are present
  • How and where their teeth are growing
  • Any signs of decay (discolouration or spotting on their teeth)
  • How well their teeth are being cleaned
Your dentist may also ask if your child regularly uses a dummy or sucks their thumb and talk to you about teeth-friendly foods and which sugary foods to avoid.

They should also be able to answer any questions you have and try to make you and your child feel comfortable throughout the visit.

The dentist will encourage your child to keep brushing twice a day, and show you the best way to do this.
Finally, once the check up is over your child may be given some fun stickers or an activity book as a reward to take home with them.

Follow up appointments

Remember to set up your child’s next appointment as you leave. Most dentists will want to see toddlers every 6 months to 1 year to ensure their teeth are developing well.

Some dentists may schedule interim visits for every 3 months when your child is very young to help build up their confidence level or to treat a developing problem.
In between visits, remember to brush your child’s teeth twice a day using a child’s toothbrush and toothpaste specially designed for children of their age.

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