Find out when to start going to the dentist, how to find the right dentist and how to prepare your child for their visit to the dentist.

When to make the first visit

All children should have their first visit to the dentist 6 months after their first tooth comes in or by 1 year of age (whichever comes first). If your family dentist is not comfortable seeing your child before age 3, you may want to see a pediatric dentist. They provide primary and specialty oral health care for children with special needs.


Finding the right dentist

Use the Dental Office Considerations Checklist when you call a dentist.  Good places to start your search include:

  • Directory of dentists who provide care to patients with developmental or acquired special needs in Washington State.
  • Check with the AAPD to find a pediatric dentist in your area.


Getting ready for your child’s appointment

Think about your child’s needs and  what information to share with dental staff. Some thinks other parents have found helpful include:

  • When calling to schedule the visit, ask for the first or last appointment of the day.
  • Talk with your child’s primary health care provider before you plan your dental visit. The dentist may need to consult with them before starting any dental care (especially for children with heart or lung conditions).
  • Ask if the staff will call your cell phone while you wait outside or in your car if your child may feel uncomfortable in a waiting room.
  • Talk to your child’s dentist beforehand if you have questions about behavioral management during treatment or sedation.


Use this checklist of questions and considerations from the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center when talking with a potential oral health care provider for your child.

  1. Is your office wheelchair accessible?
  2. If we need help getting our child to the office from the parking lot, is there someone on the staff who can help? Staff may be able to help by carrying personal items or equipment.
  3. Do any staff members know how to perform safe wheelchair transfers and use a transfer board?
  4. Do your dental chairs have movable armrests for easy access? It can be a challenge to lift children over armrests or to move them into a dental chair without removable armrests if they are wearing leg or back braces.
  5. Can a wheelchair fit parallel to the dental chair in most of the exam and treatment rooms? Doing exams and preventive care with children in their wheelchairs is sometimes preferred to transferring the child, particularly if the wheelchair can be adjusted. Transfers are also more difficult if the exam room is too crowded to line up the wheelchair close to the dental chair.
  6. What are your policies on late arrivals or cancellations? Families with children who have health or developmental needs that are unpredictable may need special arrangements for appointments.
  7. How are your exam and treatment rooms arranged? Is it an open room with many chairs? Is a private room an option?
  8. What kind of x-ray equipment do you use? Can it reach low enough for young children or children in wheelchairs? Do you have options for alternative x-ray techniques?
  9. Can parents and caregivers stay in the exam or treatment room with their child?
  10. Do you have a policy on protective stabilization? Any techniques for stabilization or that restrict movement must have informed consent from parents.
  11. What is your informed consent process for: Examination? Treatment? Behavior management techniques?
  12. Do you have any health history or other forms that you can send me to complete before our first visit?
  13. May we schedule an orientation or first visit session? A meet and greet visit will allow you and your child to see the office, meet the dental team members and ask questions.
  14. Are you able to schedule appointments to allow for flexible staffing and assistance if needed? For example, the dental hygienist may need a dental assistant to help place sealants or take x-rays, or additional staff members may be needed to assist with a wheelchair transfer.
  15. What type of payment methods/arrangements do you accept? Are you aware of any community resources for financial coverage for children with special health care needs who cannot afford oral health care?
  16. Have any of the dental team members received special training in working with children with special health care needs?

Adapted with permission from National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center at Georgetown University, 2000. Special Care: An Oral Health Professional’s Guide to Serving Young Children with Special Health Care Needs. Washington, DC: National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center at Georgetown University.

Download the dental office checklist.


Preparing your child

You know your child best.  Some children respond well to talking about what will happen before going to the dentist and some do not.  Some ideas that may help:

  • Play “going to the dentist” and take turns with your child being the patient and dentist.
  • Talk about what will happen at the visit.
  • Practice the “knee to knee position” at home. This is a common way that dentists care for small children or children in wheelchairs. In this position, you and the dentist sit facing each other with knees touching. You will hold your child facing toward you and then lay your child back down across your legs with their head cradled in the dentist’s lap.
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