Here are my 13 tips on preparing your child for the dentist to avoid fears, tears and tantrums.
My little one’s first dental check-up was when she was 3 months old. She started teething which, according to the dentist, wasn’t unusual for her age.
We left the dentist office less worried but way stressed. Because my kid who was still in the 4th-trimester stage, was wailing like she just came out of my womb. I was half deaf and half numb by the time we found and left a diaper changing room and that scenario was forever etched in my mind.
So when it was time for my child’s very first dental checkup as toddler, I did my research and promised to never again leave any dental office numbed out and deaf as a post.
Here’s everything I know on how to prepare your child for their first dental visit.
8 Tips On Preparing Your Child For The Dentist
Start a dental routine early on
My baby started teething at 3 months and a quick trip to a pediatric dentist eased my worries about it. They did tell us to start a gentle dental hygiene routine for my baby
I set a routine early on to brush her teeth twice a day. I avoided all the fuss and tantrums of cleaning her gums by making her watch short yet educational videos.
I used this baby finger toothbrush initially then we later updated it to a baby toothbrush. Which finally graduated to using an official toddler toothbrush.
You can start by cleaning their gums daily with a clean, damp cloth or a soft-bristled toothbrush, made especially for infants.
Read about it
If your child likes being read to, get them a book about visiting a dentist!
Storytelling is the easiest way to explain anything to children. Not only does it hold their attention, but it can also describe seemingly complicated scenarios in the easiest and most fun way possible.
There’s a lot of books about visiting a dentist, here’s a few of them:
Tell them what to expect
Treat your child like a little human being. Explain to them what to expect when they visit a dentist, in the simplest but most entertaining way possible. You’d be quite surprised by how much they can understand at such an early age.
Tell them why they need to see a dentist soon. What will they see inside the dentist’s room, what tools the dentist will be using, and the procedures that they might experience.
Do pretend play
Do a reenactment of a typical dentist appointment through pretend play!
You can take turns playing the dentist or the patient or use a plush toy like this one) to do a show and tell.
Get them a dentist kit playset but remember to hide the unnecessary tools so you don’t need to explain and scare your kids in the process.
Let them get used to the idea of opening their mouth wide, of something poking inside, of someone shining a light right inside their mouth, etc.
Let them also check your pearly whites and make it fun by counting each other’s teeth!
Watch a video
You can also let your toddlers watch some videos about popular tv characters visiting the dentist, such as the following:
Bring a comfort item
Make them feel calm and secure during the appointment by bringing their favorite toy or comfort item like a lovey.
Let them hold it the entire time they are on the dental chair. You can also pretend the toys are talking and are encouraging them to be brave about seeing the dentist.
Promise a reward
Let them know how special it is for them to visit the dentist for the very first time by promising them a reward. It can motivate them to get through the appointment, hopefully with less crying and tantrums.
It doesn’t have to be an extravagant, financial reward or god forbid, a sweet treat. It can be as simple as a quick trip to the playground, extra 10 minutes of TV time, giving them a piggyback ride, and so on.
Use positive reinforcement
If their first dental visit wasn’t an entirely pleasant one, don’t focus too much on what went wrong.
Let them know instead of everything that went right with the visit.
Point out the positive things or acts they’ve done during the dental appointment, even if it’s just the little things.
Using positive reinforcement would encourage them to improve their behavior. Plus it would make the experience less traumatizing for them. They’ll hopefully remember more of the pleasant things that happened during their dental checkup.
Extra Tips On Preparing Your Child For The Dentist
Bring them to your dental appointments
Monkey see monkey do. This is the easiest way to show and tell what to expect and what happens during a dental appointment.
Remember to ask your dentist first if it’s okay to bring your toddler with you in the room. Ask also if it’s okay if your kid can sit down on your lap before and after the examination or any dental procedure.
If your dentist is all chill about it but your little one is a little fidgety, have another adult go with you. Just let them and your kid watch from a few feet, so as not to disturb the entire dental procedure.
Do your research
Choose a pediatric dentist instead of a general practitioner. A pediatric dentist has all the experience, toys and even room decorations to handle kids better. They’ll be used to all the drama that can happen during a dental checkup, making it a less stressful experience.
You can ask for recommendations from friends, local online groups then google and read reviews online.
You can also call ahead and ask if you can visit personally with your toddler, before actually setting an appointment.
Hype it up
Tell them about the dental chair that goes up and down, the sunglasses that they need to wear to protect their eyes, how the dentist gives out treats, and so on.
You can even tell them that they might see a fish tank there, just like in that Nemo movie!
Time it well
Schedule dental appointments wisely.
You know your kids best so determine the most opportune time to do a dental checkup when they are less likely to be sleepy or to have a tantrum.
Morning appointments work best, as well as after their nap time.
Put them at ease
I’ve never really had a great dental experience, especially when I was a kid but I didn’t want my kid to have that same phobia I had with the dentist.
I want her to have a great set of teeth, so I sucked up my anxiety and projected an aura of confidence and positivity, every time we visit a dentist.
My kid tends to mimic adults around her, and she tends to copy me and her teachers most especially. I don’t want to pass on my dental anxiety to my daughter so as much as possible, I put up a brave face and use only positive words when visiting a dentist.
I don’t even tell her to “don’t worry” or “don’t be scared” as it might connote something negative and that’s the last thing I want to happen.
Preparing Your Child For The Dentist: FAQ
When should my child see a dentist?
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend that a first dental visit should be done within 6 months after the baby’s first tooth appears but no later than the child’s first birthday.
What will the dentist do at my child’s first visit?
A first dental visit doesn’t mean certain procedures will be done right on the spot unless it’s badly needed.
But typically, a toddler’s first dental appointment is made to guide parents on how to take care of their little one’s teeth through preventive measures, such as cleaning their teeth and gums early on and regularly, bottle weaning, etc. It’s also to prep the kid, to get them used to visiting a dentist regularly.
But why bother visiting a dentist so early when baby teeth are just going to fall out?
It’s important to still take care of baby teeth because of the following reasons:
- A healthy set of baby teeth can help your child to chew easily and can determine how quickly your kid can speak properly.
- They are the placeholders for permanent teeth. They set the stage for a healthy-looking smile for the permanent ones. So taking care of baby teeth will determine the appearance of the permanent teeth, promoting proper jaw development, and setting up how your kid will look when they smile. Which can affect their confidence.
- It promotes good dental habits. I want my kid to get that habit early on of daily brushing, flossing, and regularly visiting the dentist.
My Takeaway For Preparing Your Child For The Dentist
My family was never big on dental hygiene and even though we brush our teeth daily, regular dental visits are not encouraged, unless your tooth/gums hurt.
I don’t have a set of healthy, pearly whites so I don’t have that confidence to smile as freely or as widely as possible and I don’t want my kid to experience that.
So I’m a big supporter of good dental habits at an early age and of visiting the dentist as early as possible on a regular basis. Even if everything is perfectly fine with my kid’s teeth. So far. Crossing my fingers!