As parents, we understand that a child’s first visit to the dentist can be a nerve-wracking experience — both for them and for us! However, starting on a positive note can help set the stage for stress-free future visits. Here are some reasons why children might fear going to the dentist, and how to encourage a comfortable experience right from the start.
Choose a Pediatric Dentist
Looking for a kid-friendly environment? Opt for a dentist that works exclusively with kids! A pediatric dentist has advanced years of training to make them more equipped to treat children, making the experience more enjoyable and less intimidating. They use child-friendly language to take away the fear of dentistry and make children feel more comfortable.
In addition to offering a fun environment that caters to children, pediatric dentists are prepared to focus on the specific issues related to children’s oral health, such as handling the emotional and developmental states that can impact a child’s dental appointments.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends scheduling a child’s first dental visit by their first birthday. Starting early allows your child to become familiar with the dental environment and build a rapport with the dentist. Early visits are often brief, primarily serving as an introduction to the dental office and a chance for the child to meet the dentist in a non-threatening setting.
“At the initial appointment, the pediatric dentist will perform a cavity risk assessment, review proper diet and oral hygiene, and discuss issues,” says John Gennantonio, DDS, at Sea of Smiles.
In addition to bringing them at an early age, it is most important for parents to maintain consistent dental visits to allow their child to become comfortable with the dental setting.
Use Positive Language
Fear of the unknown is a significant factor in a child’s anxiety about dental visits. Unfamiliar sights, sounds and equipment can be overwhelming. To counter this, consider introducing your child to the concept of the dentist in a positive light before the first visit.
“Parents can ease their child’s nervousness about visiting the dentist by discussing the process positively, reading books about dental visits, and choosing a pediatric dentist who specializes in children’s care to create a comfortable environment,” says Katie Stewart, DDS, at Sea of Smiles. Stewart also suggests scheduling during a time of day when your child is at their best (not during naptime). Also, refrain from using anxiety-provoking words, like shots, needles or pain, and statements like “don’t worry, it won’t hurt” or talking about your own dental experience in too much detail.
“Remember, if you are calm and matter of fact about your child’s appointment, then they will be more relaxed and accepting,” Stewart says.
Play Dentist at Home
Did you know you can familiarize your child with dental tools by incorporating imaginative play into their routine? Purchase a child-friendly toothbrush and let them practice brushing their teeth with a stuffed animal or doll. This playful approach helps demystify dental tools and creates a positive association with oral care. Children and parents can also play together and talk about what a first dental visit may be like as far as the dentist looking in their mouth and what to expect for cleaning their teeth.
Talk About It
Sharing positive stories about your own dental experiences can comfort your child. Parents should let them know the dentist will help them keep their teeth healthy and have a healthy smile. Children often find comfort in knowing that others have had similar experiences without any negative outcomes.
Books are another great tool to help introduce the dentist, as it helps put a positive spin on it. Preparing your child for the dentist this way means when that first appointment comes around, they’ll have an idea of what’s going to happen and it won’t seem like a new situation.
The Big Day
When it’s time to visit the dentist, allow your child to bring a comforting item along, such as a favorite toy or blanket. Having a familiar item can provide a sense of security and act as a distraction during the visit. As you are walking through the clinic with your child, you can answer any questions they might have.
During the dental visit, remain calm and supportive. Your child takes cues from your behavior, so staying positive and relaxed will help alleviate their anxiety. Hold their hand, offer words of encouragement, and celebrate their bravery after the appointment. Parents can also encourage positive behavior by offering praise after a successful dental visit! Reinforcing positive experiences helps create a positive association with dental visits, making future visits more enjoyable.
A child’s first dental visit sets the stage for their oral health journey. By addressing their fears and using these strategies early on, you can help foster a positive first dental visit, building a foundation of trust and comfort to make future checkups a breeze—for both you and your child!