With a little preparation, getting children ready for their first visit to

an oral health care provider need

not be an apprehensive experience, according to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association.

There are a number of specific actions parents can take to help a child enjoy a first visit to the dental hygienist and dentist.

First of all, talk about the appointment in a positive way. This starts at home with parents setting a good example by brushing and flossing together with their children every day. Parents who may have had negative oral health care experiences should not communicate those feelings or any anxiety to children, as that will make them fearful.

Using a toothbrush, parents can demonstrate to a child how teeth might be cleaned by a dental hygienist. They can also explain that there will be some noise involved and that the oral health care providers will be wearing masks and gloves to protect themselves and the child from germs. In addition, dental hygienists recommend that parents let their children watch them get their own teeth cleaned. They will realize that if it doesn’t hurt their parents, it will not hurt them.

ADHA says that most children should visit an oral health care provider for the first time at about age one and reminds parents that oral hygiene at home for children should begin at birth. This ritual should include thorough cleaning of the child’s mouth and gums with either a gauze pad or infant washcloth after feedings and before bedtime.

Once the baby’s primary teeth appear, parents can use a small, soft-bristled infant toothbrush dampened with water to clean them gently. Later, by the age of two or three, parents can teach their children how to brush with a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. Parents should continue to help their children care for their teeth until age seven or eight, when they have enough dexterity to brush and floss alone.

By helping children learn oral hygiene early, parents can help to prevent cavities and other oral health problems.

Pediatric Dental Health Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 500 million dental visits occur annually in the United States, with an estimated 50 billion dollars currently being spent on dental services. Despite this, many children and adults needlessly suffer from oral diseases that could be prevented. In fact, 30,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral and pharyngeal cancers this year, resulting in more than 8,000 deaths – many of which could have been prevented. In addition, close to 20 percent of preschoolers (children ages 4 and 5) have tooth decay, with 50 percent developing tooth decay by the third grade, and 86 percent by age 17. With proper preventive care, such as regular check-ups, brushing, flossing, fluoridation, and dental sealants, the risk of dental disease can greatly be reduced.

Percent of children ages 2-17 with a dental visit in 2006: 76

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