Many doctors and medical authorities suggest that children have their first dental appointment by the age of 1. Or when their first tooth comes in.
As a parent, you may be dreading the event, imagining Little Junior screaming and writhing. And you, sweating and swearing. But it does not need to live up to your worst imaginings. Finding a pediatric dentist is the first step. Family dentists are well-versed in handling children and can help make the experience a fun one. Or at least less trying.
With a little planning beforehand, you will be able to avoid tantrums and make it an easy experience for you both.
Here are some activities that will help your child get ready for his first dental visit.
- Introduce the dentist through books and videos.
Reading books is a great place to start for little toddlers in the days prior to a dentist trip. Picture books that feature dentist trips are available on Amazon and can help normalize the event. Elmo Visits the Dentist (Sesame Street Dalmatian Press 2007) is a top seller. And Dora the Explorer: Show Me Your Smile! (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition 2005) is highly reviewed. Favorite animated characters visiting the dentist are a great way to introduce dental visits to little children.
- Try out some role playing.
A child’s first dental checkup happens at such a young age. So there is a good chance by the time the second visit comes around, your child will not remember his first visit. Getting your child to feel at ease in and around a dental office should be ongoing. For children between 3 to 5 years old, try some role playing at home. You do not need to add fanfare (unless your child loves fanfare). Just make it a regular activity to brush your child’s teeth for her. Position her in a semi-supine position, similar to how your child would recline in a dentist chair. Having someone else brush her teeth in this position should help her adjust and it will feel less foreign when her next dentist trip comes.
- Keep your own attitude in check.
Kids pick up on the feelings and emotions of their parents. If you complain about the upcoming dentist visit and are tense and upset at the prospect, your child will pick up on this and will mirror your behavior. Try to treat your dentist trip in the same way as you would a shopping trip. You are both going to get something you really want — healthy gums and teeth. Focus on the benefits of going to the dentist in your thoughts and in what you say to your child. Remember that in these early stages you are establishing how your child will look at oral hygiene, so stay positive and upbeat.
- Have a treat prepared for after the dentist visit.
You want your child to associate dental visits with something fun. So plan for a fun bonding activity that you can both engage in on the way home. Stop by the park and give your child your full attention. Put your smartphone away, and play a rousing game of tag. Or take him to a game center, if there’s one on the way home. Your conscience might forbid indulging in anything too sugary right after you leave the dentist. But there are other healthy options out there.
Look for an activity that can become part of a dentist visit tradition. Something you can both look forward to indulging in after the dentist appointment.
It happens to us all. Our first cavity. Our first filling. The need for emergency dental care. But with the proper preparation, the world of dental visits can be a whole lot less scary for your child. Through thoughtful activities and fun books, you can help create a positive attitude toward oral health in your child.