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8 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Their First Dental Appointment

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Parents and dental professionals need to work together to help make a child’s first dental appointment a positive experience. Here are eight things you can do to help ensure your little one leaves the dentist smiling.

Consider Setting an Example

Provided you aren’t anxious about dental visits you might want to consider letting your child tag along when you go for your next exam and cleaning. Children learn a lot by observing how people they trust react to unfamiliar situations and seeing a parent or caregiver do something intimidating, and emerge unscathed, can go a long way.

Speak to your dentist about having your child observe your next dental visit. Being familiar with the staff, the dental office, and the general format of the visit can help ease your child’s anxiety when it is their turn to sit in the dentist’s chair.

Stress the Importance of Good Oral Health

Your child may be more enthusiastic about visiting the dentist if they understand why they are going. When brushing your child’s teeth take the time to discuss how important it is to maintain healthy teeth and gums, and talk about how the dentist plays a role in this.

Play Dentist at Home

Roleplaying is a great way to help your child prepare for real-life experiences in a safe, low-stakes environment. Take turns being the dentist and the patient, and explain to your child about how the dentist is going to look in their mouth and clean their teeth. You might also consider enlisting the help of your child’s favourite stuffed animal, doll, or action figure to act as another patient for your little dentist-in-training to practice with.

This is also a great time to explain to your child that while dentists are special doctors that take care of our teeth, they are also just normal, friendly people just like us.

Choose the Right Time

With children, timing means a lot. When you are scheduling your child’s appointment make sure to choose a time that is good for them, not just good for you and the dentist’s office. Try and schedule the appointment for the time of day when your child is most happy and alert, and avoid sensitive times like just before or after nap time.

You also don’t want to choose a time that will disrupt your child’s schedule. If your partner is usually home at the same time every day, or you have other activities that anchor your daily routine, try and choose an appointment time that won’t interfere with these daily cornerstones. Most children thrive on consistency and don’t always react well when their schedule is disrupted.

Give Your Child A Heads Up But Limit the Details

Before you arrive at the dentist’s office give your child a brief outline of what is going to happen. Explain how you will wait in the waiting room until it is your child’s turn, and then how they will go sit in the big fancy chair so that the dentist can look at their teeth. Discuss how the dentist is going to examine their teeth and then how the dental hygienist will give them a good cleaning, and remind them that you will be in the room with them the whole time.

Your child is probably going to have questions about the dentist, and you should do your best to answer them in a simple, straight forward manner, but leave any complicated or detailed questions for your dentist. Your dentist has the training, and practice, to explain dental procedures and other dental related topics in a clear, calm, and non-threatening way using easy to understand language. They may even have colourful props on hand to help get the point across in a fun and engaging way.

Avoid Scary Words

You want your child to look forward to visiting their new friend the dentist, so take care to avoid words that might cause your child anxiety. Words like “pain”, “hurt”, and “shot” should be avoided.

Don’t Share Bad Memories

Even if your own childhood dentist wasn’t as friendly as you would have liked, now is not the time to bring it up. Avoid bad memories and instead share positive ones about how much you liked visiting the dentist as a child, or how nice your current dentist is.  

If It Doesn’t Work Out, Try Another Time

Sometimes all the preparation in the world just isn’t enough. If your child gets anxious or scared at the dentist, you may just have to accept that today is not a good day and try again soon. It might help to schedule a backup appointment with your dentist in case things don’t go well the first time.

If your child does get scared or have a meltdown, it is important to determine what caused their emotional discomfort. Getting to the root cause of your child’s anxiety will help you address the issue, and better prepare them for their next dental visit.

Regular dental exams and cleanings play a critical role in your child’s oral hygiene, and doing your best to minimize any dentist related anxiety can help lay the foundation for a lifetime of good oral health. Request your child’s first dental exam today.

Written by Dr. Kevin Hamm

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