Follow these tips to help their first exam go smoothly.
It’s important to introduce your child to oral health care at a very young age. This is beneficial in order to learn how to properly care for your child’s teeth, get them comfortable visiting a dentist on a regular basis and establish a love of oral hygiene that will last a lifetime.
The best way to get started is to visit a dentist at age 1 so you can learn the most effective way to properly clean your baby’s teeth. The dentist or hygienist can spend time with you, watching how you clean your baby’s teeth and offer corrections or suggestions. The baby sits on your lap in the dental chair. It’s more comfortable for the baby. A dentist wants a very positive experience for the baby and parent in order to establish a connection that makes visiting the dentist a routine part of life. It’s best to continue seeing the dentist every six months.
Here are seven tips to help your child at any age feel comfortable with their visit:
- Find the right pediatric dentist
Just like you take your child to the pediatrician, you should find a pediatric dentist. This may take some time. Just like general dentists, there’s a wide range of skills and attitudes among pediatric dentists. Most are very good. Find the pediatric dentist that you feel comfortable with. Some pediatric dentists cater their entire experience to the child, from the moment you walk in the door. You’ll see it decorated for kids so the environment is friendly and inviting. A pediatric dentist will also have the right tools to help your child feel comfortable in the dental chair. They may have fun, colorful sunglasses your child can wear during the exam to keep the bright light out of their eyes. They may have cartoons playing on a TV to distract your child. And many times they have “cavity-free prizes,” where the child can choose a small toy when they have no cavities. These things can help motivate your child to keep their teeth clean.
- Prepare them ahead of time for what to expect at the appointment
It’s always a good idea to prepare your child for something new by explaining how it will work ahead of time. If they know what to expect, it will help them feel more comfortable about doing something new.
Explain that it’s normal to feel funny about doing something new. Here’s an example for how you can explain a dentist visit to your child:
“You’ll get to sit in a big, fun chair that moves backward. It’s a very safe chair – you can’t fall out of it. You just lie back, open your mouth, and say “Ahhhhh,” and the nice dentist will look inside your mouth. Then the dentist will clean your mouth, just like at home.”
If your child has teeth, the dentist will count them. Between ages 4 and 6, the dentist will take pictures of their teeth called X-rays.
- Read books about the dentist
There are many great books written about a dentist visit. Check a few out at your local library and read them with your child in the weeks leading up to the first visit. When a child sees characters visiting the dentist, it helps them see this as a positive thing, not something to worry about.
- Practice an exam on a stuffed animal
You can also prepare for their first trip to the dentist by role-playing with your child’s favorite stuffed animal or doll. Pretend the animal is at the dentist and use a toothbrush to clean their mouth.
- Have your child bring a “friend” to the dentist
Bring that same favorite stuffed animal or doll with you to the dentist. Your child can hold it during the exam to help them feel more comfortable.
- Choose a good time for the visit
If your child still takes a nap, avoid scheduling a dentist appointment during their usual naptime. Find a time after they’ve eaten a good meal and had the chance to play and rest – this way, they’re in their best mood during the dental exam. Mid-morning can often be a good time.
- Get them excited about their take-home goodies
The dentist will give your child a new toothbrush at the end of the exam. Make this an exciting thing – look at that great color or character on the toothbrush! You can suggest using their old toothbrush as a practice one for their stuffed animal or doll.
If you follow these tips, your child is sure to feel comfortable about their new tooth helper, the dentist! Read more tips about how to help instill a lifetime of love for oral hygiene in your kids here.