Children should first visit the dentist by a year old. This first visit is very important as it allows the dental professional to check the health of a child’s mouth and discuss hygiene needs moving forward.
Tips for how parents should talk about dental visits with their children:
- Keep it simple
Going into too much detail will raise unnecessary questions and could create fear in children. Simply saying “The dentist is going to count your teeth and make sure your mouth is healthy” will leave little room for confusion and worry.
- Avoid talking about pain
If a parent has had a bad or painful experience at the dentist, it is best not to discuss this with the child. Talking about shots or pain will only worry children and give them the idea that the dentist is someone to be feared.
- Emphasize the importance of good oral hygiene
If the question of why they have to go to the dentist comes up, it is best to discuss the importance of healthy teeth. The idea of having strong, healthy teeth and a pretty smile is something children will be able to relate to and understand.
- Read books and watch DVDs about the dentist together
There are many children’s books and children’s TV episodes available about going to the dentist. Parents should watch/read some of these with their children so that the child understands that their dental visit is nothing to worry about. You can purchase books and DVDs here — http://www.latsa.com/dentalhealth/books
- Practice at home with a “pretend dentist” game
This can be really fun! Parents can dress up and pretend to be the dentist. Parents and their children can then walk through the way the dental visit will go from the arrival to the end of the appointment. Then, switch and let the child be the dentist!
- Give children some control back
Children are subject to doing many things that they don’t understand because they are asked to do so by adults. If the child is brave enough, it may be helpful to give them some control back during their appointment. While sitting in the waiting room, have them listen for their name to be called. Once it is, the child can lead the way back to the exam room. You can even have them shake the dentist’s hand and introduce themselves!
- Take a fun tour of the office
Dentists want a child’s first visit to be a great one too! Many are happy to help by giving a short tour of the office. This may help children feel more comfortable since it will allow them to make sense of the space around them.
- Avoid bribes
It is easy, and a common mistake, to bribe children into being compliant by offering a treat if they don’t fuss. However, this sort of bribe only reinforces the idea that checkups are a bad and scary thing. The idea is to help them understand that dental appointments are no big deal. That being said, it is a great idea to regularly go and get a treat after the dentist. Just be sure to avoid using it as a reward or punishment for behavior.