The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that your child sees the dentist the first time by age 1 or within 6 months of getting their first tooth. Not only does following these recommendations help keep your child’s teeth and gums healthier, it will also help them begin to get comfortable with the dentist office and develop the trust needed with his or her dentist. If your child is older or is already scared about going to the dentist, follow these 6 tips to help your child start enjoying his or her dentist appointments.
- Explain what to expect and only what you know
When you tell your child about a dentist appointment, remember to be as honest as possible. You should explain that visiting the dentist is not his or her option—it is simply part of building healthy habits which will help them become a healthy individual (as we all must do). Remember, your child does not get to choose whether or not to go. Don’t make promises you won’t be able to keep such as, “All you need to do is get your teeth cleaned. If you do this then we will not be back for another six months.” Keep in mind, if the dentist finds a cavity or another issue that may require necessary treatment, your child could lose trust in everything you say about going to the dentist in the future.
- Carefully pick your words
When you talk to your child about the dentist, be sure to choose your words as carefully as you can. Remember to always use positive language and keep it short and sweet. They do not need to know all the details or the official (and often scary) sounding words that may frighten them. Leave the detailed explanations to the dentist and staff who typically have their own vocabulary such as “wiggle” a tooth instead of “pull a tooth” to talk to kids about what’s going on at their appointment.
- Have a pretend visit to the dentist
You can grab a toothbrush and pretend to go to the dentist with your child. This will make your child feel more safe since they see his or her parent is excited to go to the dentist, whom they trust. Count your child’s teeth and use a “mirror” to look into their mouth. You can also have your child play dentist with stuffed animals or dolls. Role playing will help your child be more comfortable when they actually go to the dentist. It is also a good opportunity to see if there is anything that your child is concerned about so you can talk to them about it.
- Read books to your child about the dentist
You can check out books from the library that cover children dentist visits and what to expect during an appointment. If they hear stories of others (even their favorite TV or cartoon characters) going to the dentist, it will help them understand that this is something every healthy person should do.
- Reward your child’s positive behavior after the visit to the dentist
After the dentist visit is over, most dentist offices will let your child visit the treasure box to pick out a sticker or toy to bring home. You can make it more special by choosing a reward of your own that you’d like to give to your child. Reminding your little one that they’ll get something special after their appointments will keep them looking forward to the end of their visit.
- Dentists are heroes!
Lastly, put focus on the fact that dentists help children keep their teeth strong and have a healthy mouth. They are not bad guys, they are like their favorite super heroes!
Expect that your children might wiggle and fuss at their dentist appointment—many kids do this before they are comfortable with the office and staff. Look for a fun, kid-friendly dentist office where the staff puts kids at ease to make the experience easier for your child—and you!
Until your child starts to enjoy the dentist, remember to always follow the lead of the dental professionals who are used to helping kids start enjoying and trusting dentist appointments.