finding the right dentist

All dentists aren't made equal. Find out what you need to know when looking for a dentist for your preschooler.

Just as you take your child to a pediatrician for his yearly check ups and doctor's visits, you should also take your preschool-aged child to a pediatric dentist who specializes in dental care for young kids.

The following are simple steps you take to find the right dentist for your preschooler.

Why a Pediatric Dentist?

Pediatric dentists have received two to three years of specialized training following dental school, and they treat only kids.

  • Pediatric dentists are more familiar with the dental health issues involving children, and are often trained to be skilled at treating kids with physical and emotional disabilities.

Get a Referral

The first person to ask for a referral would be your pediatrician, she may be able to provide you with a list of names to check out. Other parents are also a good source for finding a dentist for your child.

  • Visit the Web sites of the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) to search for dentists near you.

Do Some Investigating

Once you get referrals, make time to visit the dentists on your list. Call each office to see if the dentist will meet with you before making a formal appointment. Ask the dentist any specific questions you may have and take the time to make note of the following in the office:
  • Are there books and magazines for kids?
  • Are there toys, if so, what condition are they in?
  • Are there child-sized chairs available?
  • Are there other children in the waiting room
  • What is the overall atmosphere like? Relaxed? Chaotic? Fun?
  • How does the staff interact with parents and children waiting in the office?

Simple Steps for Before the Visit

Dr. Carole Labate, DMD, of Reading, Pennsylvania, recommends taking the following steps before your first office visit:
  • Bring your child on a grown-up dental appointment to familiarize her with the sites and sounds of the office

  • Let your child sit in the dental chair and see the various tools and instruments the dentist will use to examine her teeth and mouth; and give her an opportunity to come up with questions to ask the dentist about what he does

  • Use clever, fun words to de-mystify the examination process. For example, say teeth are getting "counted" rather than examined, or that her teeth are being "tickled" when they are being cleaned or polished. This will prepare her for her visit in a less scary and clinical manner.

  • Talk to honestly with your child in a positive and easy tone about going to the dentist before your office visit.

  • Answer any questions she may have as truthfully as possible

  • Never tell your child that "It won't hurt".
    While you do not want to create an association between going to the dentist and pain, you certainly do not want to mislead her into thinking that there will not be some possibility for discomfort. Be truthful and don't gloss over that fact that some procedure may hurt.

During & After the Visit

Some dentists allow children to sit on a parent's lap during the initial exam. Younger children may be less likely to squirm while sitting on mom's lap.

  • Dentist also sometimes allow parents to bring a child's favorite toothpaste to use when it's time to clean, or polish her teeth.
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