As a new parent, there are so many firsts. First word. First steps. First trip to the park. First dental visit. These types of new experiences can be intimidating for the whole family.
Being free of all fear and anxiety when it comes to dentist visits is essential to ensuring your child will have a foundation of healthy oral habits.
Dr. Violetta Chu, general dental practitioner at Rodeo Dental & Orthodontics said the first visit is crucial and can set a child on the path to maintaining good oral health into adulthood.
RGVision sat down with Dr. Chu to discuss how to prepare, practices for healthy teeth and what you can expect when you take your child for their first visit to the dentist.
When is the right time to take a child to their first dentist appointment?
Dr. Chu: “We encourage bringing your child as early as 6 months old, even if they don’t have teeth yet. Parents should definitely bring them by the time the first tooth comes in, but no later than the first birthday.”
What happens during the first visit and how often should a parent bring their child in?
Dr. Chu: “When they first get to their dental appointment, we will talk to the parent about their kid’s oral health — habits, any hazards. Are they sucking their thumb? Grinding teeth? We do an exam to make sure everything looks good.
A dentist will let you know how frequently they recommend bringing a kid in — usually every three to six months.”
Is there anything parents can do to help prepare their child for the new experience?
Dr. Chu: “I encourage parents to brush their kid’s teeth regularly or wipe their mouth with a soft wet cloth if they don’t have teeth — something just to get milk out of gums. This helps get kids used to someone cleaning their mouth, which is going to help them be more comfortable at the dentist.”
How do the doctors help a child who’s experiencing a high level of anxiety or nervousness surrounding the visit?
Dr. Chu: “We definitely set the stage so it’s an exciting fun time for a kid. To get them to be more relaxed, we would just ease them into the appointment. We tell them we are just going to tap your teeth. We make it exciting and ask questions, get them really engaged. We like to make jokes to get the kids to laugh, and then a lot of times we let them know what we are going to do and show them this is a mirror it’s nothing to be afraid of — things like that. A lot of times we hand the toothbrush to the kid and ask them, ‘how do you brush your teeth?’ A lot of times they are more comfortable taking the toothbrush and showing us. Then we will be like, ‘OK, that’s awesome. Are you doing it like this?’ and we take their hand and guide them.”
What strategies do you suggest that could help a child embrace brushing their teeth and view it as less of a chore?
Dr. Chu: “There are a lot of toothbrushes that look like toys — ones that spin, some that light up. Just make it a fun time for the kids. They also have flavored toothpastes. It does not matter what kind, as long as it has fluoride. They may be excited to try the different flavors like bubblegum, grape, or cherry. Another thing I encourage is for parents to brush their teeth in front of their kids. A lot of times, they see a parent do dishes and they want to do dishes. So, if they see their parents have very healthy dental habits – brushing, flossing — kids are going to want to do that, too.”
If a child has a sweet tooth and a parent is struggling to reduce the amount of sugar they consume, are there any alternatives to offer in place of sugar-heavy treats that they will still enjoy?
Dr. Chu: “We discourage sugary snacks and drinks like juice and soda, but if kids are already very used to it, there are certainly compromises.
If it is juice, you can start watering it down. Add water more and more each time, so eventually the drink they have is less and less sweet, then eventually it is just water. Also, it matters the time the parents are giving kids snacks and drinks. During mealtimes they can have their juice in the morning or chocolate milk with their dinner or something like that. It’s more important they have it with a meal as opposed to as a snack because the more time they’re having sugary foods, they’re more likely to get cavities.”
What types of foods are best avoided and what foods promote good oral health?
Dr. Chu: “There are certainly foods that are worse for cavities — anything sweet and acidic candy-wise, like caramel and things that are sticky. That is worse than just regular candy.
On the other hand, whole grain foods — foods and vegetables with a lot of fiber — are great. These foods need more chewing and require more saliva, which will help lower the chance of cavities.”
Are children more susceptible to cavities or other dental issues? Should they be brushing more frequently than adults or engage in any other specific oral care?
Dr. Chu: “For baby teeth, because of the anatomy, cavities do get bigger faster in baby than adult teeth. But kids do not have to do anything different than adults —brushing twice a day, flossing. A lot of times flossing gets forgotten because they don’t think they need to floss yet, but as soon as teeth touch, there are gaps where food and bacteria can get trapped.”
What makes Rodeo Dental & Orthodontics different from other doctors?
Dr. Chu: “We’re very family driven and like to make sure the parents and the kids have fun when they’re with us. Recently, we celebrated a child’s first birthday and first dental visit with cake and balloons. With us, health and fun go hand in hand. We’re not your typical dentist office.”
Rodeo Dental & Orthodontics offers extended hours — 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. — and has multiple locations across the Valley to accommodate a family’s schedule. Parents can also make an appointment for themselves along with their child.
To locate the Rodeo Dental & Orthodontics office nearest you, visit rodeodentaltexas.com.