A male child in dentist chair giving thumbs up.

How often should you take your child to the dentist?

How often do you take your children to the dentist? Interestingly tooth decay is one of the most common reasons why young children go to hospital. We all know it is not the most pleasant experience but it is essential to start the children at an early age getting used to dentists.  Yet more than 40% of children in England did not see a dentist last year.

Children are not alone in their dislike of dentists even as adults many of us put dentists high up on our list of ‘most disliked activities’.  So, one can imagine how a child might feel.  From their point of view sitting in a strange chair, in a room full of unknown objects can be a very scary thing. They must lie back on a chair in an unfamiliar room filled with unfamiliar noises and objects, all the while a stranger is poking cold, metallic, and unusual instruments in their mouths and it doesn’t feel very nice.

Unlike adults as a child’s teeth continue to fall out and grow, it may take at least 10 trips to the dentist before starting kindergarten.  And I think they don’t even get lollipops anymore after the visit!

The British Dental Association says that regular dental check-ups are the key to preventing tooth decay in children and have urged the government to invest in educating the public. Guidelines recommend children should see a dentist at least once a year.

Statistics from NHS Digital show that 6.7m children went for a free dental check-up in the year to June – equivalent to 57.9% of all under-18s in England.

A regional breakdown of the figures shows that attendance in the north of England was highest, with 62% of children seeing a dentist there, but in London the figure was just 48%.

These figures suggest a small dip in children having teeth extracted in dental practices but there are indications that tooth extractions due to decay continue to be the top reason children aged five to nine are admitted to hospital. And figures from 2014-15 show an almost 10% rise in children needing tooth extractions from those recorded in 2011-12.

Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chair of general dental practice at the British Dental Association said in a recent interview with the BBC

“It’s clear we have a problem when one in three children are missing free dental treatment.

“NHS dentistry has been left to fend for itself, without investment, a strategy, or any attempt at public education.

“These numbers are a national embarrassment, and will not budge until minister’s change tack.”

He added: “We need a concerted effort to get parents, health professionals and government on the same page.”

A Few Tips to get your children used to a visit to the dentist:

  • Start Young
  • Before a first visit try not to include too many details. It will just raise more questions and more anxiety. Keep a positive attitude but avoid saying “everything will be fine” because if they need treatment they will then lose confidence in both you and the dentist.
  • Choose your words carefully and avoid the ‘N’ (needle) ‘P’ (pain) ‘H’ (hurt) words. Someone said to say “the dentist is looking for ‘sugar bugs’ so he can clean them off your teeth.” or “We are going to check your smile and count your teeth.”
  • Try some pretend role play before the first visit. You can hold up a mirror to show them how the dentist will be looking at their teeth.  Let your child role play with one of their stuffed animals or dolls. And of course, picture books are great.
  • Avoid bribery – rather after the visit praise your child or perhaps a sticker or small toy but after and not before the visit.
  • Teach your child why it is important for them to go to the dentist. That it is a necessity rather than a choice and that the dentist is going to take care of their teeth so they are strong and healthy enough for them to eat well.

Remember if you are anxious your child will notice this.