Healthy Kids     Camps     Camp Guide     Health Guide     PlacesTo Go Guide    

Happy teeth

How to make the most of your child’s trip to the dentist

A trip 
to the dentist can spark all types of reactions in kids, from beaming pride (Look, Ma, no cavities!”) to sheer panic (“Don’t bring that drill anywhere near me!”) 

If your child falls into the latter category  or somewhere in the middle of the dental anxiety spectrum  don’t worryIn honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month, we’ve asked local dentists for some simple tips to help your kids develop great oral hygiene habits. 


Lose the juice 

Although most children love the taste of juices, sodas, and teas, the sky-high sugar content of these drinks can ruin their teeth. Dr. Geri-Lynn Waldman of Hudson Valley Pediatric Dentistry in Middletown says juice in sippy cups is especially dangerous. 

“Kids walk around for hours at a time with their sippy cups, and then their teeth are bathed in sugar all day,” she says. If kids can’t break their juice habit, Waldman suggests limiting their intake to one glass a day — preferably with breakfast, right before they brush their teeth.  

The rest of the day kids should hydrate with milk or water, and save the sugary stuff for special occasions.  

Waldman’s own kids only have juice and soda at birthday parties or other special events. “If you don’t drink something regularly, you don’t care about it as much and you don’t miss it after a while. 


Avoid sticky sweets 

Sticky foods, such as Starbursts, fruit roll-ups, and raisins, can wreak just as much havoc on teeth as Mountain Dew or Sunny D. Even fruit snacks, which may seem like a better alternative, can be damaging.  

“They might be all natural or organic, but your teeth don’t care if they’re organic,” Waldman says. 

If candy is a non-negotiable for your child, Xylitol lollipops provide sweet fruit flavors without the sugar. Otherwise, desserts like ice cream, pudding, plain chocolate, and sugar-free ice pops are much more teeth-friendly options because they can easily be brushed off.  


Pick out a toothbrush 

Kids are more likely to brush away the bad stuff consistently if they like the tool they’re using. Toothbrushes come in all types of colors and characters, and Waldman suggests bringing your kids to the store with you so they can pick out one that they like. 

“It makes brushing every day a lot more fun,” she says. Certain toothbrushes will even flash lights or play music for the amount of time a child should brush.  

For kids who might be anxious about their first trip to the dentist, Waldman suggests an electric toothbrush to help them get accustomed to the noise and feel of the dentist’s brushes. “It makes it less scary,” she says.  

According to Dr. Dayna Olstein of Orange County Pediatric Dentistry, it is important to begin brushing two times per day once the first tooth has erupted. 

“You can begin to clean them by wiping the teeth with a wet washcloth, a tooth wipe or soft child’s toothbrush and a smear of fluoride free baby toothpaste,” she says. 


Positive reinforcement 

The best way to prepare your child for his first trip to the dentist is to talk about it positively. 

“Kids follow their parents’ footsteps,” says Dr. Evan Hershkowitz of Seven Seas Pediatric Dentistry in Wappingers Falls. “Tell them, ‘They’ll count your teeth, they’ll brush your teeth, it’ll be fun,’” he says.  

If parents have anxiety about going to the dentist, kids will pick up on it. But if your child has no negative ideas about the dentist in their minds, they’ll be much more relaxed when they get in the chair. Keep your conversations with your kids about the dentist positive, and help your child choose a dentist-themed bedtime story featuring her favorite characters, like Little Critters’ Just Going to the Dentist, or Dora The Explorer’s Show Me Your Smile! A Visit to the Dentist. 

“It is best to refrain from using words around your child that might cause unnecessary fear, such as needle, pull, drill or hurt,” says Olstein. “Pediatric dental offices make a practice of using words that convey the same message, but are pleasant and non-frightening to your child.” 

Hershkowitz encourages talking up the yummy toothpaste flavors available in the dentist’s office, such as birthday cake, watermelon, and chocolate. In addition, Waldman suggests buying a small hand mirror to count your kids’ teeth with them before their appointment and get them excited for their visit. 


First visit 

If you’re unsure when to make your child’s first dentist appointment, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends doing it by age one. This will allow a dentist to ensure teeth and oral tissue are developing properly, help you as a parent stay informed about best oral hygiene practices, and start preventing cavities and other dental problems right away. 

“There are a lot of things we can do early to prevent issues later on,” says Hershkowitz. “The earlier, the better.” 

According to Dr. Korlei Mensah at Valley Pediatric Dentistry, recent data shows that 4 out of 10 children have had at least one cavity by the time they start kindergarten.   


“Establish a “dental home,’” says Mensah. “Locate a pediatric dentist in your area where you will bring your child for his first visit and for routine exams and treatment. By creating a dental home for your child, you will also know exactly where to go in case a dental emergency arises.” 

Once your child gets used to the dentist, the office can be a great place to visit. Waldman comforts and rewards her patients with sunglasses, blankets, and other prizesHershkowitz keeps a treasure chest of goodies stationed in his pirate-themed office, designed with approval from his 6-year-old son. When his patients get in the chair, they can choose their favorite show to watch on Netflix during their exam. He likes to have his patients control as much of their experience as possible. 

“Going to the dentist should be fun, he says. 


Elora Tocci is a freelance writer born and raised in Newburgh. She currently works as a communications assistant at Teach For America in New York City.  

Tooth tips 


Your child’s teeth may be more susceptible to cavities than you realize. Follow these four tips to make sure your kids’ pearly whites are strong from the start. 


No bedtime bottles 

Sucking on a bottle all night long can lead to early and rapid tooth decay.  Extended nighttime breastfeeding after teeth have begun to develop can also cause decay, so be sure to stop feeding as soon as your child falls asleep.  


Avoid sharing utensils 

If you’re feeding your child with the same utensils you used to taste the food, you may be unknowingly transmitting harmful bacteria to his mouth. Try to switch to a clean utensil before feeding your child.  


Keep thumbs down 

Children who suck their thumbs can develop cavities at higher rates than children who don’t. If you notice your child starting to suck his thumb, work with him to break the habit in a way that’s comfortable for him and saves his smile. 


Make regular dentist appointments 

Even if your child does not appear to have dental problems, bring him in for a checkup at least once a year. Regular dentist visits will help your child develop good habits right away and will make taking care of his teeth a natural part of his daily routine.