Our cover kid Stella White loves to brush!

After the first bleary months of my kids’ lives, those initial gummy smiles from my newest and tiniest family members (almost) made up for the sleep deprivation.

My babies’ smiles lit up a room and I, like most first-time parents, stopped at nothing to get more, no matter how silly the sound or face I had to make.

Teething brought tears — at times from all involved — and altered those sweet gummy smiles forever. I remember seeing those first teeth as a milestone that signaled big kid status coming soon. Thankfully, their toothy grins weren’t any less room-brightening, but their first teeth did bring more parenting responsibility: guiding healthy dental hygiene.

February is National Children's Dental Health Month, so the Family team took the chance to celebrate all things healthy teeth by chatting with local pediatric dentists Dr. Emily Cheek of Leap Kids Dental and Dr. Keith Jones of Small Bites Pediatric Dentistry. They offered plenty of tips on prepping kids for the dentist and what to expect while you’re there.

Four Tips for a Fabulous First Visit

Your baby’s first tooth has arrived! What’s next? According to Dr. Cheek, visiting the pediatric dentist by the time your child is one or six months after their first tooth erupts will help avoid “cavities, pain, infection and subsequently increased need for dental restorations or even extractions.”

Case, made.

If you’re hitting that mark with your kid or hoping to have a more positive experience at the dentist this time, here are four tips from our helpful experts for a fabulous first visit.

1. Share Your Enthusiastic Attitude

As a parent, your smile matters almost as much as the patient’s. “It’s important that the parent be positive and upbeat about the first dental visit,” Dr. Cheek says. “Kids can sense the parents’ anxiety and will mimic their behavior.”

On the flip side, Dr. Jones suggests parents “avoid any negative words or descriptions of any procedures or tools we might use. In pediatric dentistry, we have creative ways of describing what will be happening in a way that won’t frighten them.”

2. Create a Positive Preview

Talking about the appointment is also important as you prepare. “Some parents have shown their child photos of our office and team from our website, and this helped them visualize the experience,” Dr. Jones shares. “And a few parents have even brought their child by our office for a tour and chatted with our team in advance.”

And don't forget to hit the high points. Make sure to mention the cool toothbrush, how shiny their teeth will be and the friendly hygienists and dentists who will count their teeth. Of course, you’ll also want to mention the prize at the end!

Dr. Jones also assured parents of patients with special needs: “We cater to any sensitivities your child might have, such as headphones to muffle sounds, sunglasses for the bright lights and blankets to help them feel warm and cozy.”

3. Inspire with Children’s Books

Both dentists recommended reading books before your visit. Here are five stories that are funny, heartwarming and bravery-inducing. And good news: all are available through CALS!

4. Tell, Show, Do

Dr. Cheek also recommends a technique called Tell, Show, Do. Simply, you tell your child what you are going to do, show them how you will do it and then do the procedure. At home, you can try this out to introduce your child to some basic elements of dental visits. “Before visits, you can practice with play doctor kits at home,” says Dr. Jones.

Regular dental visits, a healthy and tooth-friendly diet and everyday maintenance are key to supporting room-brightening smiles for years to come.

What to Expect During Your First Visit

Knowing what to expect can help big time in the attitude and positive preview department. Here are a few insider insights on what will go down during those early dental visits.

• The Visit Will be (Surprisingly) Brief and Refreshingly Upbeat

Dr. Jones starts with a positive note, “Parents are often nervous about how their child will behave, but these visits are typically very positive and exciting for kids!”

That checks out with my personal experience. When I took my oldest to the dentist for the first time, I was relieved by just how short the cleaning and exam was. The focus was on a positive experience, and opening his mouth for even a few seconds was the goal and a huge victory.

• The To-Dos are Basic

Dr. Cheek says to “expect a quick tour of the office, a meet and greet of the staff and doctor as well as a cleaning and oral exam.” And be ready with any questions! “The dentist should review proper oral hygiene and dietary habits, normal dental development and what to expect from pacifier/thumb-sucking habits (if applicable).”

• Stay with Your Kid

If you were wondering — yes, you should stay with your child for their first visit. Not only will you be able to review all information on your child’s dental health, but Dr. Cheek says it’s crucial for a great experience. “Having a parent present will also help ease the child into unfamiliar surroundings and as the child gets accustomed to the staff, sights, and sounds.”

Dr. Jones encourages “for future appointments, we recommend that child accompany our staff independently. Our purpose is to gain your child's confidence and overcome apprehension.”

• Bring Backup Entertainment

I feel like the most challenging part of a dentist visit with a toddler is ... the toddler. My youngest takes any lag time between the cleaning and exam to get up and explore. If your kid is a fellow wanderer, make sure to stash a few books or small toys in your bag for these moments.

While your child's first dentist visit may be short and sweet, remember, great dental hygiene and a relationship with the dentist are something kids grow into. "Visiting the dentist every six months is the best thing you can do to stay ahead of dental health challenges,”says Dr. Jones. Pair that habit with consistent hygiene and a healthy diet and you've got a recipe for many more room-brightening smiles in your future.

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