As soon as a child turns two, it’s time to visit the dentist or dental hygienist for an oral health assessment. Dentists know that there can be nervousness or fears and often work hard to make the visit a comfortable experience.
What happens on the first visit?
Your child meets the dentist or dental hygienist and has an opportunity to get used to the dentist’s high-tech chair. This consultation mainly involves just a visual inspection, making sure there’s nothing unusual with the child’s teeth and gums. The dentist also counts the child’s teeth using the dental mirror - a fun game that we’ve found usually fascinates the patient!
The dentist or hygienist should take time to answer any questions to create a gentle, positive experience that is often accompanied by plenty of giggles for both the child and the parent!
As well as doing an oral examination, the dentist or dental hygienist assesses the child’s growth and development and identifies any risk of dental decay, as well as educating the child (and parent) on brushing techniques and the importance of healthy nutrition on teeth.
What’s the next stage?
When the child is aged between four and six, the dentist might decide to take a radiograph (X-ray). Digital radiographs are commonly used today which utilise much lower levels of radiation than traditional radiographs, making them a safer option for all ages. While the dentist can see everything outside of the child’s teeth, an X-ray reveals what’s between the teeth and under the gum line. As well as spotting any cavities, it also shows the number, position and size of teeth under the gums. If there’s any crowding, this is an early sign of possible future orthodontic treatments.
Easy tips to be prepared
Kids can easily pick up on anxiety in their parents, so try to keep it light-hearted yourself to allay their fears. If a child has any concerns, it’s important to explain that dental visits are a regular occurrence for everyone to help keep people healthy. Keep it matter-of-fact without using any negative words such as ‘pain’, ‘drill’ or ‘needle’.
Since kids are often exhausted after a busy day at day care, pre-school or school, it’s generally best to book a morning appointment.
How can children keep their teeth healthy?
A little hands-on help can improve your child’s teeth in the early days. They’ll have been told by you and their dentist that it’s important to brush twice a day, but they generally need help to get the right technique – usually children need a parent’s help to brush and floss until they are seven or eight years of age.
Teach your child how to brush with a small, circular action while keeping the toothbrush angled at 45 degrees towards the gum line. Also, the child needs to start flossing once the teeth are touching – usually between the ages of two and three. Kids love a good routine so try to have teeth cleaning take place at the same time each day - for example after breakfast, and just before bed.
Also ensure your child has a variety of nutritious foods, particularly fruit and vegetables, and mainly drinks tap water, followed by milk. Try to avoid sugary or highly processed foods, and sugary drinks like juice or fizzy soda.
What’s the Child Dental Benefits Schedule?
In Australia, children aged between two and 18 years have free basic dental care through the public system, all part of the Commonwealth-funded Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS). This free scheme is particularly ideal for low-income families who can't afford private dental care.
Benefits for basic dental services, including examinations, X-rays, cleaning, fissure sealing, fillings, root canals and extractions, are capped at $1000 per child over two consecutive calendar years. Children won’t even have to be on a waiting list – the young patient will be given the next available appointment.
For more information, call 132 150 or visit www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/services/medicare/child-dental-benefits-schedule.