Today, I am sharing tips on how to introduce your child to the dental office. Whether this is the first dental visit for your little one, or the third visit, the words or phrases you use can play a huge role in how they feel leading up to the appointment. It takes several trips and experiences in the dental chair for it to become comfortable.
When should your child first visit the dentist? This is one of the most frequently asked questions amongst parents. The recommended age is one, or when your child has their first tooth erupt. While this may seem young, there is much value to this initial visit. A large portion of the first dental visit involves the dental team building a relationship with you as parents and with your child to build comfort and a welcoming space that motivates good oral health and positive dental experiences. Education is one of the other big components of seeing a dentist by one. At this visit, your dental team will review brushing and flossing techniques, nutritional counseling, fluoride use, complete an early-prevention dental exam and cleaning, and answer any questions you may have to help prepare your child for oral health success!
To help you and your child feel prepared for their trip to the dentist, here are a few common tips that can help your family feel at ease during the appointment.
Tip #1 Talk about visiting the dentist with your child!
Visiting the dentist should be FUN! By talking to your little one about going to the dentist, you are helping prepare them for what is to come. Add excitement to your conversation and use the appropriate jargon. Kids often play off our emotions as parents, so if we are excited, they are more likely to show similar feelings.
Be sure to use positive words and avoid terminology that can be interpreted in a negative way. Here are a few examples of phrases to use when talking to little ones to help them understand what it is like visiting the dentist:
- We’re going to visit the tooth doctor.
- You’ll get to take a ride in a rocket ship chair.
- Can you open big like an alligator? SAY AHHH!!
- There is a special mirror to help count your teeth.
- There is a magic toothbrush that spins in circles and brushes away sugar bugs. It may even tickle.
- You’ll get to try a fun, new toothpaste!
While you may feel silly using this vocabulary as an adult, I promise it helps create excitement for your child. You may also choose to read a book on brushing. Showing your child pictures and reading words they are likely hear from the dentist plays a valuable role in preparing your child.
Tip #2: Choose a pediatric dentist, if possible
Pediatric dentists undergo additional training specific to meet the needs of infants, adolescents, and those individuals with special needs. In addition to their training, you can expect to see a more kid-friendly office environment that helps encourage excitement once they walk in the door. If a pediatric dentist is not available in your location, do not let this keep you from scheduling your child’s first visit at an early age. General dental practitioners are also trained to provide dental care to children. In this case, you could even consider bringing your little one with you to a visit to watch and learn.
Tip #3: Schedule a morning appointment with your dentist!
If possible, try to schedule your little one’s dental visit in the morning when they are well rested and well fed. Planning around nap schedules and meal times will help you as a parent feel at ease during the visit.
Tip #4: Role-play!
Prepare your little one at home for their upcoming dental visit by role-playing. Practice with your child by modeling. Open wide, say AHHH, and show your child what it is like to be the patient by letting them practice brushing your teeth. Then switch roles. Don’t be afraid to examine your child’s teeth as often as possible. This allows opportunities for your little one to not be scared of your fingers poking around and you hovering over top of them. If you have a toddler, you can have them lay their head in your lap and open wide while you brush their teeth. This position mimics what they can expect during their visit.
Tip #5: Bring a friend with them when visiting the dentist!
Does your child have a favorite toy or stuffed animal? Let them join in on the fun as well. A toy can serve as a distraction, sense of normalcy, comfort, and is a great conversation piece. As a dental hygienist myself, when children bring a friend with them to their appointment, I like to use the stuffed animal as a way to demonstrate what we are doing that day to gain the child’s trust!
Tip #6: Set realistic expectations
There is a very strong chance, regardless of how much you prepare at home for your child’s dental visit, they will be a little nervous or get upset during the appointment. These emotions are very much valid and dental professionals expect this. It is important as a parent to also prepare yourself for a visit that may not be full of smiles the entire duration. Ending the appointment on a high note with high fives, praises, hugs, and kisses will show your little one how proud you are they visited the dentist.
Tip #7: Practice, practice, practice!
Repetition is important to implement following your visit. Continue talking about dental visits, practicing oral hygiene at home, role-playing, using your fingers to look around your child’s mouth, and praising them for a job well done at the end of a brushing and flossing session.
Remember, the key is consistency. By keeping your child engaged in an oral health routine at home and scheduling maintenance visits with your dental provider at least every 6 months, you are showing them the value of having a healthy smile at a young age that will grow with them into adulthood.
About the author
Kristen Cockrell, BS, RDH, Dental Hygiene Education Masters Candidate 2021, Graduate Teaching Assistant, UNC Adams School of Dentistry, Division of Comprehensive Oral Health