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1st trip to the dentist

With my son starting kindergarten, our state requires a dental exam within a year for that age. So it seemed like the right time to finally use the expensive dental insurance we added to our family health plan. (We'll leave aside--for now--that I have to have my own separate health insurance because I'm denied my partner's insurance via marital discrimination.) For those of you wondering, "doesn't the ADA recommend that kids see a dentist for the first time between the ages of 6 months and 1 year?" I say..."bull." If you did manage to get your kids in a dentist's chair at 6 months, good for you. But the average age for a first dentist visit in the US is just shy of 3 years old and 34% of young kids have not. And 62% of parents say their child is "too young" when asked why they didn't go Then again, 1 in 4 kids in the US also had a cavity by age 4 (more about that later), so that leaves us nationally in a difficult place.

I'm definitely not a dentist person. My own thoughts go something like this: it's one of the few professions that hasn't evolved much in 500 years. You go sit in a chair and let someone poke at you with sharp objects...there's picking, bleeding, grinding, scraping...and that's if you're healthy! Not to mention that dentistry is expensive either out-of-pocket or for the insurance. It leaves dental care as an unaffordable luxury for many. And if you do manage to go, there's often guilt, shame, and high pressure sales tactics. Dentists frequently make patients feel bad about their health condition, their inability or lack of desire to see a dentist regularly, and they often recommend procedures that are unnecessary.

In an effort to make things go as smoothly as possible, we chose a recommended local dentist via a mom's group in our town. In the end, we couldn't be happier. I can't say much for the actual dentist's personality...she gave it a good try at playing nice with an uncooperative child (before eventually giving up). But the hygienist was one of the most amazing human beings I've ever met. It's not even a pediatric dentist, but she had the gimmicks and tricks down. First and foremost, the office is cool with snacks and drinks, tv and headphones, and everything is paperless (give or take the odd person like myself who doesn't own a printer to bring a questionnaire in or get a school form). The hygienist was good enough to make me want to come in for a cleaning, no kidding. She let both kids play with ALL (and I mean all) of the equipment including working the floor pedal for the polisher, using the suction and water sprayer, and handling the dental instruments. My kids totally forgot but she'd even offered a set of gloves and mask to take home. They were probably distracted by the offer of chocolate milk when the exam is done.

She asked who wanted to go first and my daughter was a quick volunteer with no fear. Both kids actually ended up true to character. The 3 year old hops up in the chair and lets both hygienist and dentist do full cleaning and exam...she even painted the fluoride on her own teeth! Her older brother, on the other hand, was scared even after he watched his baby sister do the same thing. He ended up standing for most of the initial process and was barely convinced to open his mouth...skipped the cleaning altogether. As best as the dentist can tell, he doesn't have any major concerns. My daughter, on the other hand, at not-even-4 already has small cavities on her molars. (BTW, yours truly has never had a cavity so what's up with that?) Unfortunately, those aren't teeth she'll be losing in 2 years and will need to keep until she's 12. So she'll have to come back in a month or two for some treatment on those.

My son may be harder to convince for a return visit. Their hope is that by going easy the first time he'll want to come back and may be more comfortable when he knows what to expect. I understand the psychology behind that, but we'll see. It can be pretty hard to get him to do something that he's afraid of...but, on the other hand, I can't really promise that it will get any better though. It really was the best dental visit I've ever witnessed.

At the end, they both got toys, new themed toothbrushes, and special flossers. String cheese, mint, and x-ray was optional.


  1. I've noticed how dental clinics for kids follow a trend of filling their waiting rooms with videogames, toys, and whatnot. Playtime does buy a little bit of compliance, as well as snacks and watching a movie or two. The key is to make the dental visit fun for kids, in ways that are familiar to them. This is perhaps so they won’t focus on the fact that they’re on the dentist's chair, enough to be frightened by it.

    Isabel Phelps @ Buckhead Dentist

  2. I am a stay at home dad as well. I had actually tried to push the first dental experience off on my wife but the timing was wrong so I ended up taking our daughter to the dentist. The dentist was full of tricks to quiet an unruly kid. Glad dentists are not like they used to be.

    Freddie Gray @ Ballantyne Dentistry


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