By Kate Ranta on Feb 19, 2014 @ 10:00 AM
The time has come for your child’s first dental visit. Visions of meltdowns are likely invading your thoughts: flailing arms and legs, red-faced crying, blood-curdling screams. Can you blame kids? It can feel scary to let a stranger, even if he or she is a doctor, to examine their mouths…especially with tools that look sharp.
The meltdown scenario isn’t inevitable, however. There are steps you can take to prepare your child for his or her first trip to the dentist, to reduce anxiety and to ensure a successful and positive first experience.
1. Watch your words when you describe a visit to the dentist. You should definitely talk with your children about dentists and what they do. You can touch on the importance of keeping their teeth clean and cavity-free, and also briefly discuss of the types of things dentists actually do during the appointment.
But, as parents well know, children are intuitive. They can read between the lines based not only on your words, but your body language and facial expressions as well. And, studies show that fear of the dentist in children is a learned behavior—meaning, if you show anxiety about the dentist, your kids will feel the same way. Keep it positive, and you can instantly ease many of their worries. Also, try to avoid "drill," "scrape" or "pull" in your explanation.
None of those sound pleasant, am I right? Stay straightforward and encouraging and you can’t go wrong.
2. Read children’s books about going to the dentist. A simple search on Amazon.com will give you a listing of many different options to read to your child (The Berenstain Bears have a dentist book, as does Little Critter). Or, check out your local library for titles. Books can really help kids visualize and understand what to expect. And, knowing what to expect goes a long way toward reducing fear and building confidence.
There are also children’s shows that feature characters going to the dentist. One that I’ve shown my son is an episode of Caillou called “I’m All Better.” I was able to reference Caillou and how brave he was at the dentist—it really helped my son know that he would be okay at the appointment.
3. Consider taking your child to a dental appointment with you. This way, he or she can watch in-person what will happen. Your reactions are extremely important, however. Remaining calm and relaxed throughout the procedure so your child can see you’re just fine is the goal. When you’re able to during the exam, you can let him or her know that none of it is painful and that you are comfortable. Children learn by example. If they see Mommy or Daddy at ease in the dentist chair, they will likely follow suit.
Of course, if you are in any way anxious about the dentist, this won’t work! If you think you’ll wince or squirm…better to leave your child at home.
4. Set up a “meet and greet” with the dentist before the first appointment. This way, your child can see the office and be acquainted with the dentist ahead of time. And, the dentist can explain each step of the process to your child and show him or her the tools that will be used.
Many pediatric dentists have “treasure boxes” from which kids can choose a prize for being brave during the appointment. This works wonders. If your child’s dentist doesn’t have one, consider buying some prizes ahead of time and having them on hand to reward your child (just a few goodies from a dollar store will suffice). Some incentive for good behavior goes a long way.
By following these few simple tips, you can make your child’s first dental visit a huge success and encourage a lifetime of healthy dental habits!