Your Child’s First Dentist Appointment

5 ways to make early visits positive.

First Time at the Dentist

Photo: Canstock


Your child’s first trips to the dentist can set the tone for the way he experiences dental visits throughout his life. His very first dental visit should occur within 6 months of the eruption of the first tooth or by 12 months of age. The frequency of subsequent visits will depend on your child’s needs and be determined by you and your dental health care provider.

Providing positive and fun first experiences will make for plenty of stress-free visits in the future. Here’s what you can do:

1. Pretend to visit the dentist. Grab a toothbrush and ask your child to sit in a chair and open her mouth. Use the end without bristles to count her teeth, starting with the number 1 or with the letter A. Or let her give each tooth a name – the sillier the better! Hold up a mirror and show her how the dentist may check her teeth for sugar bugs.

2. Prepare for the first visit. Read an age-appropriate, illustrated storybook about visiting the dentist. Or offer a positive and realistic but minimal explanation: “You will need to sit in a chair and the dentist/hygienist will use a small mirror to count all your teeth to make sure they are healthy.” Allow him to bring a favourite toy/blanket to the appointment for comfort.

3. Choose kid-friendly words when explaining procedures. Avoid the words shot/needle/hurt/pain. Instead, say that the dentist will give her some numbing gel, and then put juice in her mouth so the tooth can go to sleep. The dentist or hygienist will provide more explanation in appropriate terms and detail.

4. Keep your own dental fears in check. If you are nervous about going to the dentist because of bad experiences, your child can pick up on it. So be calm and positive. If you can’t manage it, ask a spouse/grandparent to take him to his appointments.

5. Link the visits to something fun. Plan to play a favourite activity or visit a fun place, like the park, right after the dentist’s visit. Your child will start to associate this with going to the dentist. Always reward good behaviour verbally. The dentist may offer a small toy/sticker as well.

These early efforts will pay off. Your child will learn there’s nothing to fear during dental visits, and may even begin to enjoy them. To continue the positive associations, praise her as she brushes each night for doing such a great job of looking after her teeth.

Teeth Milestones

  • 6 months: The first primary (or “baby”) tooth emerges. (Teeth may appear as early as 3 months or as late as 12 months).
  • 3 years: Most kids will have all 20 primary teeth. Primary teeth give shape to your child’s face, help guide permanent teeth into the right position and are crucial for learning to eat and to speak.
  • 5 to 6 years: Your child will start to lose his primary teeth to make room for his permanent teeth.


Author: Angela Murphy

Angela Murphy is a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) and owner of PURE Dental Hygiene Care in Peterborough, ON.

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