Even after the most diligent of oral health care habits, parents may find themselves facing a time when their child has to get their first filling.  Though never an entirely pleasurable experience, there are certain things to expect and ways to prepare yourself and your child for their first filling.

Know that sometimes cavities happen despite best efforts

Parents often feel they’ve somehow failed to take care of their child when they get a cavity, as if there was something more they could have done to prevent them, but as mentioned before, sometimes cavities happen despite the best brushing and flossing habits.  Besides improper brushing and flossing, cavities can be caused by diet, lack of fluoride, the shape of teeth, parents’ dental history and the general chemistry and bacteria in the mouth. Parents can’t control all of these factors, and therefore cavities may still happen.

Be ready to answer your child’s questions

Kids will likely have lots of questions when it comes to what’s going to happen at the pediatric dentist’s office. Be prepared to answer honestly but in very simple terms what they expect, including the noise a drill (we don’t use the term “drill”; we call it a “hand piece”) makes, how it feels to have your mouth numbed, etc. We don’t use any terms like “needles” or “shots” – we use terms like “sleepy juice” and “magic air” Less is more in pediatric dentistry, sometimes the less they know the better. If you need help on how to answer these questions, as your pediatric dentist for some guidance.  Sometimes they’ll even invite you and the child in for a pre-treatment visit to go over details and answer the child’s (and parent’s) questions. Keep it simple and don’t overwhelm the child with too much information.

Be calm and assuring

It’s difficult seeing your child have to go through something that causes them fear or anxiety. The best thing a parent can do is remain calm and reassuring to keep the child’s anxiety to a minimum. Kids pick up on their parent’s fears, so if you yourself have anxiety about going to the dentist, it might be best to have someone else bring the child in, or have someone else in the room during the procedure.  Parents who have dental phobias can have a significant effect on their children.

Prepare the child for how it will feel afterwards

Whether your dentist uses an oral sedative or Laughing gas (nitrous oxide), the procedure itself will likely not be very painful at all. However, some kids are really bothered by the numbness they experience afterwards, so be sure to prepare them for that sensation, and encourage them not to bite or chew the inside of their mouths to try and feel anything. That WILL cause pain! Come prepared with Children’s Tylenol just in case they need it

Take the opportunity to re-emphasize good oral health habits

Even if the cavity was not caused by poor dental habits, the onset of a cavity is a good time to review healthy brushing habits with your child, and talk about limiting sweets and junk food. While all the preventative measures and good oral hygiene habits may not stop children from getting a cavity, it is definitely a step in the right direction to keep from compounding the problem, so reviewing healthy habits is always a good idea.

Share your own experiences with cavities

You’ve likely had a cavity or two in your own lifetime, and sharing your story with your child is another way to help them understand what’s happening, and that you understand what they’re going through. They’re more likely to trust you when you tell them what to expect and what will happen, and you can help keep them calm. Remember to use gentle terms and paint the picture positively.

Many kids will get cavities over the course of their life. Understanding how to deal with them and what to expect when getting a filling will make the experience much less dramatic for the child and may likely set them up to be even more diligent in their brushing habits.