Going to the dentist for the first time is an important rite of passage in childhood. Often, however, the experience is met with a bit of resistance. Many children have a degree of fear associated with visiting the dentist. Sometimes, that fear is due to the anticipation of pain. Other times, their anxiety is simply a result of the unfamiliarity of the experience. Experts agree that it’s important to establish good oral health habits in children from the start, and that includes regular check-ups and cleanings. Thus, finding ways to help your child prepare for his upcoming dental appointment can alleviate his fears, maximize his comfort, and set the stage for a lifetime of good oral health. Consider the following preparation tips:
- Get an early start. When it comes to getting your child to the dentist, remember: the earlier, the better. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children visit the dentist by their first birthday, or when their first tooth erupts. This accomplishes two important things: first, any oral health concerns can be identified– and subsequently treated– before they develop into more serious problems. Secondly, visiting the dentist becomes a routine that children expect twice a year; thus, any fear associated with dental check-ups is minimal.
- Stick to the basics. There’s no need to overload your child with a step-by-step guide of everything that will happen at her first dental check-up. Doing so will only overwhelm her and will likely increase her anxiety level. So, keep it simple: let your child know that the hygienist will clean her teeth and the dentist will count her teeth to make sure they’re healthy and strong. If she ends up needing treatment for an oral health concern, you can address that later. Stick to the basics for the first appointment.
- Use kid-friendly terminology. Let’s face it: the technical terms for dental tools can be a little intimidating. Avoid inundating your child with dental vocabulary prior to his appointment; there’s no need to discuss sealants or nitrous oxide before he even sits in the check-up chair. Allow your child’s dentist or hygienist to introduce kid-friendly dental vocabulary at his appointment. At home, focus on positive phrases like “strong, healthy teeth” instead of “cavities” or “pain”.
- Practice beforehand. Kids love make-believe play, so consider doing a little dental appointment role-playing prior to your child’s check-up. Don’t worry– there’s nothing elaborate required for this game of pretend. Simply grab a mirror so your child can view the action and then enthusiastically count her teeth. Next up: grab a favorite doll or stuffed animal and let your child pretend to be the dentist. Hand over a toothbrush and let her get to work on polishing her furry friend’s teeth. A little pretend play before her check-up can help alleviate some of the fear of the unknown.
- Be clear about the importance of good oral health. When parents approach oral hygiene with a no-nonsense attitude from the beginning, they make it clear to children that visiting the dentist is a necessity rather than an option. Thus, it’s important to explain to children early on how preventive care– including regular dental check-ups– keeps their smiles sparkling and healthy. Additionally, parents should establish an oral health routine for their kids that includes brushing their teeth twice a day and flossing daily.
Most parents would agree that their children’s health is a top priority. An important part of maintaining children’s overall health is making a conscious effort to establish good oral hygiene habits early on. For more tips on helping to prepare your child for his first dental exam, contact us today.