Many children are nervous or scared when they go to the dentist for the first time and it’s completely understandable. It’s a new environment with unfamiliar noises and scents and strangers who want to look in their mouth with cold metallic instruments. To top it off, their experiences in doctors offices so far have included pokes and prods from immunizations so that’s what they’ve learned to anticipate. Fortunately, there are ways to prepare your child for their first dental visit that can help set expectations and reduce the fears and tears. Here we’re sharing some tips for easing your child’s dental anxiety and ensuring more relaxing visits:
Start Dental Visits EarlyThe American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child visits the dentist for the first time within 6 months of sprouting their first tooth or no later than their first birthday. This may seem early since your baby only has a few teeth but it’s the perfect time to help you learn everything you need to know about your child’s developing smile. We’ll give you advice on topics like thumb sucking, pacifiers, nutrition and feeding. We’ll also confirm that your child’s new teeth are healthy, cavity-free and growing in correctly. Possibly the most important reason to start dental visits young is so your child can build a relationship with the dentist and get accustomed to the new environment. We’ll introduce them to our office and dental instruments gradually so that by the time your baby is a toddler, visiting the dentist will be routine and they’ll know just what to expect.
Visit a pediatric dentistThink of pediatric dentists as the pediatricians of the dental world. As specialists, they have the knowledge and training to provide outstanding dental care to infants, children and teens, including those with special needs. Pediatric dentists undergo an extra two to three years of training after dental school to learn about children’s unique oral health needs as well as their growth, development, psychology and behavior. This way, they are not only experts in kids’ oral health but know how to communicate with young patients and tailor the approaches and techniques to each child’s personality. Since a pediatric dentist is a dentist for kids, their offices tend to be much more kid-friendly. At Sunshine Smiles, our office is bright, fun, modern and designed especially for children. We have games, books, TVs and prizes to keep kids engaged and having fun. When dental visits are fun and enjoyable, positive associations are made with the dentist and kids are excited to come back. They will be more likely to continue visiting the dentist into adulthood, giving them the best chance of having excellent oral health for life.
Chat about their oral health and the dentistBefore your visit, it helps to talk regularly with your child about the importance of taking care of their teeth and gums and how the dentist can help. After all, these are important parts of staying healthy and growing up. It’s a good idea to discuss oral health in an uplifting way and to create excitement for their first visit. You can convey good feelings by using positive words like “fun”, “healthy”, and “clean” and avoid negative words like “pain” or “shot.” Emphasize that the dentist will be gentle and friendly and tell them what to expect in words they can understand. For example, before their first visit, you can explain that the dentist will look at and count their teeth with a mirror and clean them with a special toothbrush. Talking about dentistry in a non-threatening, kid-friendly way will make the visit seem fun and happy rather than scary and nerve-racking.
Role playPlaying a little game of make-believe dentist before their visit can help set expectations and ease your child’s anxiety. You can take turns being the dentist and patient and act out what will happen during the visit including sitting in a chair, opening widely, counting, brushing and flossing teeth. Preparing your child and familiarizing them to the idea of a dental visit in the comfort of your own home can reduce some of the unknowns of their upcoming dental experience.
Read books or watch videos about the dentistThere are so many fantastic books and videos that get kids excited for the dentist. Reading about or watching their favorite characters conquer and enjoy dentist visits can give your kiddo the confidence they need to do the same! A few great book options are The Berenstein Bears Visit the Dentist by Stan and Jan Berenstein, Cassandra Gets Her Smile Back by Sherri Alpert, Just Going to the Dentist by Mercer Meyer, and Show Me Your Smile by Chritine Ricci. Videos and shows about the dentist also work well. A couple of our favorites include Daniel Tiger Gets His Teeth Cleaned and Peppa Pig – The Dentist.
Stay CalmYou are your child’s biggest role model so they look to you in stressful situations to know how to react. If you’re anxious, studies have shown that it is possible to pass on fears to your children. Good news is, positive emotions are contagious too so keeping calm and smiling during your child’s dental visit can translate into secure, comfortable and happy visits. Remember that it is normal and age-appropriate for your young child to fuss, wiggle and cry at their visit. Try to keep relaxed and take comfort in knowing that as pediatric dentists, we’re used to working with kids and have dealt with all kinds of reactions. We’ll guide you and your child through and each visit will get easier.
Give positive reinforcementOnce your kid’s dental visit has come and gone, highlight the positives. Even if there were some tears, congratulate them on completing the visit and being brave. We’ll reward your child with a special prize at the end and emphasize that they earned it with their good behavior and courageousness. Each visit should get a little easier until, poof! Zero fear.
If you’re ready to tackle that first dental visit and you’re looking for a pediatric dentist in the Upper West Side, Manhattan, schedule an appointment at Sunshine Smiles Pediatric Dentistry. We’ll work with you, whether your child is nervous or not, to help make sure they are relaxed at their visits, learn all about oral health and get the care they need to maintain a healthy, happy smile.