The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends kids have their first dentist visit no later than their first birthday. These early appointments are super important for making sure your child’s smile is healthy and their oral development is on track. Yet, another big benefit is that going to the dentist young lets kids get comfortable and develop a rapport with the practice, making future visits a breeze. We know going to the dentist for the first time can be a little scary. Hey, even adults get nervous about the prospect sometimes! For the kiddos, a lot of this is just a fear of the unknown. There are a number of steps you can take to help alleviate these jitters. Here’s how to prepare your child for their first dental visit to ensure it runs smoothly:
- Be Positive – Studies have shown that parents can pass their dental anxiety on to their children. So, even if you aren’t a huge fan of the dentist, don’t let it show in front of your kiddo. Try to avoid talking about any bad experiences or impending procedures you have coming up. Always chat about the dentist in positive terms. When you accompany your child to their visits, take a deep breath, keep things upbeat and try your best to appear happy.
- Find an Awesome Pediatric Dentist and Tour the Office Prior to the First Appointment – So, when it comes to a pediatric dentist vs. a general dentist, does it really matter which one your child goes to? The answer is, yes. A pediatric dentist completes specialty training after graduating from dental school. They learn all about child development and psychology, as well as the ins and outs of treating growing smiles. We use techniques like tell-show-do, which involves describing and demonstrating what we’re going to do before we actually get down to business. This really helps kids feel more relaxed.
Also, pediatric dental practices are designed specifically with kids in mind. Our Naperville pediatric dental office has child-themed treatment rooms, a kidzFlix cinema, the kidzCave arcade game room, toys, books and even an iBar with iPads. When kids love going to the dentist, it makes things so much easier on parents and it sets the stage for a lifetime of good oral health.
Once you schedule an appointment with an awesome pediatric dentist, consider touring the office in advance. This can go a long way in preparing your child for the dentist because it lets them get familiar with the sights and sounds. At Innovative Pediatric Dentistry, we always encourage our new patients and their families to swing by before the first visit. We do a tour and let little ones see how much fun we have.
- Tell Your Child About Their First Dental Visit on the Same Day as the Appointment – When kids (or grown-ups) don’t know what to expect, sometimes, the imagination can run wild and not in a good way. That’s why we don’t recommend that parents tell their child about the first dentist appointment too far in advance. It can lead to a lot of anxiety. It’s not a great idea to completely surprise them either and just show up at the dentist without warning. Letting them know about the visit on the morning of the appointment is the best bet. Tell them that a nice tooth doctor will be counting their teeth and showing them how to keep their smile strong and healthy. Answer questions they have but don’t go into too much detail and avoid using words like “drill,” “pain,” “shot,” “needle” or “hurt.”
- Watch Videos or Read Books About Going to the Dentist – When kids see their favorite characters happily visiting the dentist, it helps put a positive spin on it. There are tons of videos and books about going to the dentist that children will love. Preparing your child for the dentist this way means when that first appointment rolls around, they’ll have an idea of what’s going to happen and it won’t seem like a scary, new situation. A few of our favorite books are Just Going to the Dentist by Mercer Mayer, Elmo Visits the Dentist by Dalmatian Press and The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist by Stan and Jan Berenstain.
- Play Some Games – Dentists games for kids can be a really effective way to demystify the experience and get them ready for their first dental visit. Not sure where to start? Simply play dentist! Break out your child’s toothbrush and have them sit in a chair. Pretend you’re the dentist and count and brush their teeth. Talk through what you’re doing and why oral hygiene is so important. Then, swap roles or let your child have a turn being the dentist with a stuffed animal.
- Schedule Their First Dental Visit Wisely – This one isn’t necessarily a tip for preparing your child for the dentist but it is helpful for keeping tantrums and tears at bay. Schedule your child’s first dentist appointment at a time when they’re typically in a good mood. Usually after a nap and a meal works well. When kids are hungry or tired, they tend to be less tolerant of new situations and not as cooperative.
- Use Positive Reinforcement – If your child is afraid of the dentist and they’re feeling anxious about their first dental visit, let them know it’s completely normal and offer plenty of positive reinforcement by praising them for conquering their fears and being brave. As pediatric dentists, we’ve seen it all, so if your child isn’t compliant or cries at the visit, it’s completely fine and you shouldn’t stress about it. It happens and every visit gets easier. Instead of focusing on what went wrong, draw attention to everything that went right. Tell them how proud you are about the positive aspects of the appointment and think up ways to overcome the negative things together.
- Bring Friends! – If your child has a favorite stuffed animal or toy, bring it with you to the first dentist appointment. A familiar, beloved friend will help them feel safe and secure. If you forget it, we even offer comfort buddies that kiddos can borrow to take with them to the treatment area.
By using these tips to prepare your child for their first dental visit, you can help them feel confident and ready to hop up in the tooth doctor’s chair. If you feel like your child needs a little more encouragement or you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out and we’ll be more than happy to give you some more pointers. If it’s time to schedule your child’s first dental visit, book an appointment with our Naperville pediatric dentists today!