Healthy Kids    

The dentist doesn’t bite

Teaching your child that their dentist is not the enemy

The first time Dakota Marks saw the dentist coming, he was so afraid he flipped out of the chair. Mom Melinda wasn’t going to let that happen the second time around.The Livingston Manor resident said Dakota was 5 years old by the time he took his first seat in the dentist chair. She didn’t know at the time that the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends you bring your child in for a check-up six months after the first tooth erupts.


But by the time daughter Zoe arrived, Marks said she knew she had to begin earlier. So she started carting little Zoe along to watch Mommy in the chair from the get-go, making it a natural occurrence when it was Zoe’s turn in front of the man in the mask.


Accentuate the positive


Preparing kids for their first trip to the dentist should be a positive experience, says Melissa Schluer, a dental hygienist from Pleasant Valley. “Parents anxiety rubs off on the children in a big way!” Schluer warns. “It is very important to never talk about the dentist negatively in front of your kids. Don’t say, ‘I hate the needle,’ ‘Fillings are awful,’ ‘I just hate having my teeth cleaned.’”


Even suggesting “let’s brush your teeth so you don’t have a filling” is discouraged by the experts - lest an innocent incentive to get them brushing result in terror when a cavity crops up anyway.


The first visit is usually just for kids to feel out the dentist, perhaps to sit in the chair and play with the water. The ADA calls for the first visit sometime before 2, but Dentist Jon Sutherland of Liberty says 3 or 4 is probably a safe bet for the first visit as long as there are no problems – pain in the teeth, discoloration or early lost teeth – before that. To be on the safe side, check with your pediatrician, he says.


That first appointment is generally a more pleasant experience than Dakota had his first time in the chair. If your child is willing, they’ll be directed to lie down in the chair and open their mouth, allowing the hygienist to check for decay in each tooth followed by gentle polishing. “Don’t be too concerned if it doesn’t go exactly as planned right off the bat,” Schluer says. “Your daughter might be great at the doctor’s office, but the minute she steps into the dentist she turns into a pile of mush on the floor. We are used to all types of reactions. Most importantly, please don’t push or be angry with them.


Find the right dentist


And if you’re not comfortable, change dentists. That’s what Cynthia Faber did after a series of unsatisfactory experiences. The New Hampton mother of two now takes her children to Dolson Avenue Dental in Middletown, where she says the attention to what her kids are feeling is what has made a difference.

“Dr. [Geri-Lynn] Waldman makes them feel like she’s on THEIR side,” Faber says of daughters Faith and Miranda.


Finding a dentist who is experienced with kids doesn’t mean using a pediatric dentist necessarily, but Faber says finding out if they have kids of their own or asking around for recommendations can make a real difference. “Don’t be afraid to say, this is not the right person for my kids,” Faber says.

If the visit is a wash, re-scheduling six months down the line is recommended for another try. But if – in the midst of all that thrashing – the hygienist noticed some decay on the teeth, they will recommend your children visit a pedodontist, a dentist who specializes in pediatric dentistry.


Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer and mom from Sullivan County.

How do these dentist visits change once your child turns into a teen?