First dental exam scares the parent more than the child

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the parenting column

You're not alone if going to the dentist conjures up feelings of apprehension and dread alongside recollections of Steve Martin's portrayal of a sadistic dentist in Little Shop of Horrors. At a check-up, dental instruments that manipulate, inspect, repair and remove teeth lie in wait on a tray next to you while a bright interrogating light shines down from overhead. How could a toddler or preschooler possibly sit through a first visit without being traumatized?

"When a child comes in to the dentist, it's unfortunately not their first experience in a medical office," said Dr. Darryl Skale DDS, owner of Skale Dental Professionals in Northbrook since 1983. "Children have gone to the pediatrician for something that is not comfortable; they've had shots and have experienced pain."

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, tooth decay is the number one preventable dental problem among preschoolers. Typically, by the age of two, children should visit the dentist for a check-up and then continue to visit once a year there after.

Dentists, along with parents, can make the first visit go smoothly and even provide a fun experience. Parents can bring their kids to one of their adult dental appointments, for example, to get them comfortable with the surroundings and the sounds of the dental equipment. Many dental offices have televisions that play kid programs to make your child feel at ease. Finally, a positive parental attitude works wonders for eliminating the fear children may have. Let your children know what to expect and this will go a long way in making them feel safe.

"Here we make it user friendly. We have cartoons, we use minimal instruments and we're minimally invasive. We make them comfortable. As they get more comfortable, we can continue to advance treatment as needed," said Dr. Skale. "When they are young with baby teeth, we keep it simple so that when the child grows up there won't be an aversion to dentistry and they've developed a dental IQ. You have to be sensitive to a patients discomfort or anxiety."

First visits for children are usually short and involve very little treatment. Teeth are counted and checked for decay, bites are examined and any potential gum or jaw issues are assessed. The dentist will then clean the teeth and possibly give the patient a fluoride rinse. Your dentist will also be your best resource for any burning oral healthcare questions that you may have-they are fantastic educators.

All in all, for a routine visit, the dentist is nothing to fear. Kids who visit Dr. Skale even walk away with goodie bags full of toys and a new toothbrush-a brilliant way to develop a positive rapport. Most importantly though, kids will have a healthy mouth full of clean teeth and the self-satisfaction that they've made it through an important big-kid milestone.

For more information on Dr. Skale or Skale Dental Professionals in Northbrook, visit