10 Ways to Make Your Child’s Dentist Appointment a Positive Experience
Set your child up for a lifetime of great oral health.
Going to the dentist can be a positive and warm experience for your child, but fear of the dentist is a common occurrence in adults and children alike. In a recent survey of school-aged children, researchers found that 23% of people either didn’t like or were afraid of dental work and dreaded their dentist appointment.
Getting regular cleanings is vital to caring for your pearly whites, so how can you keep your kids calm and promote good oral health habits? Read on for 10 ways to take away the fear and help your child’s dentist visits run smoothly.
1. Start when they’re young.
The best time for your child to first visit the dentist is when they’re too young to be afraid. The American Dental Association recommends taking them to see their dentist as soon as their first tooth comes through or before they turn two.
Even though there isn’t much cleaning to be done, these first few appointments are still important. They help your child get used to being in a dentist’s chair and will help you establish positive oral care habits early on.
2. Introduce your child’s dentist before the appointment.
Put yourself in your child’s shoes for a minute and imagine that you’re visiting a dentist for the first time. You lay back in the chair, not sure what’s about to happen, and grow-ups with masks and weird outfits shine a light on your face and start poking your teeth with metal sticks. Does that sound like your idea of a good afternoon?
Many children are already nervous around strange adults in otherwise normal situations. To help them feel more at home during a dental visit, introduce them to the dentist and hygienist before they settle in for a treatment. Meeting the person behind the mask makes cleanings a lot less scary.
3. Play pretend dentist appointment with them.
Kids learn through play, so use tooth brushing time to pretend you’re at the dentist. Explain that you’re checking their teeth to make sure they’re strong and healthy and go through the normal process of a dental cleaning. If they’re interested, switch roles and let your child take a look at your smile.
4. Use encouraging words.
Your kids will latch onto the language you use to talk about dental care. Try to avoid using words like “pain,” “hurt,” and “cavities” with young kids, even if you’re saying those things won’t happen. Stick to positive and encouraging language, and ask your dentist if you aren’t sure what terms to use.
5. Plan a treat for afterward their dentist appointment.
It’s so much easier to get through things we aren’t thrilled about when there’s something fun to look forward to afterward.
If your child has a favorite activity, like going to the park or playing with a friend, make it the next thing on the day’s schedule after their dental appointment. Try to avoid using sugary snacks as a reward, though, as that can undermine the lessons their dentist is trying to teach.
6. Don’t pass your nerves along.
Even if the dentist isn’t your favorite place to be, be careful not to project your discomfort onto your kids. Children are perceptive—if you’re fidgeting and asking nervous questions throughout their appointment, they’ll pick up on it and start feeling anxious as well.
If you don’t think you can stay calm, check to see if you can stay in the waiting room. If that isn’t possible, bring something to distract yourself and try to sit outside your child’s line of sight in the treatment room. The dental team knows how to keep kids calm, so let them direct the appointment and follow their cues for what language to use.
7. Schedule your kid’s dentist appointment carefully.
We get it—being a parent is hard! Between school, work, social engagements, and taking care of the house, balancing your schedule is a circus-worthy act. Even so, doing your best to schedule your child’s dentist appointments at a time that works well for them can make things run more smoothly.
If your child takes naps, don’t plan a visit during that time. Also, try not to make them miss out on something they were looking forward to, like sports practice or music lessons. Go at a time when your child is normally awake, not hungry, and in a good mood.
8. Bring a comfort item.
Does your child, like 60% of young kids, have a favorite blanket, teddy bear, or doll they carry everywhere? If so, this comfort object could be the key to helping them have a positive dental visit.
If their special toy is unobtrusive and doesn’t make noise, ask the dentist ahead of time if they can bring it along to their appointment. Having something familiar to hold onto makes a new and strange situation less overwhelming.
9. Don’t feel guilty about a cavity.
We all want the best for our kids, and we feel awful when something bad happens to them. Many parents feel guilty if they notice their child has a cavity—they should have made them brush their teeth more, cut back on treats, or bought that expensive cavity-prevention toothpaste instead!
If your kid has a cavity or another dental problem, don’t beat yourself up or avoid visiting the dentist out of shame. Cavities happen to most of us at some point, and it’s more important to take care of it early. Your dentist will be understanding and help you come up with a plan to avoid more cavities, and early treatment can help you save money later on.
10. Visit a dentist who loves kids.
While most general dentists will accept kids as patients, there’s something different about taking your child to a pediatric specialist.
Not only is the facility designed with youngsters in mind, but a pediatric dentist knows exactly how to ease the fears many children have. Pediatric dentists also have state-of-the-art equipment that makes treatments less invasive and more comfortable. They can make oral health a fun learning experience your kids will stick with for the rest of their lives.
Going to the dentist doesn’t have to be scary.
No matter how you feel about the dentist office, dentists aren’t something to be afraid of. If your child’s dentist visits are a source of stress, following the above tips can help turn tooth care into something they look forward to.
If you’re looking for a dentist’s office that prides itself on creating a stress-free environment for kiddos, visit the Pediatric Dental Specialists of Greater Nebraska. Our fun-loving doctors and all of our fabulous team work hard to make caring for a healthy smile a fun and positive experience.
Ready to see a pediatric dentist in Omaha? Request an appointment at one of our four convenient facilities today.