Visiting the dentist is an important part of maintaining good oral health at any age. It is therefore vital that children create a positive connection with going to the dentist, so they continue to visit throughout their lifetime. Check-ups, however, can be scary for children – lying in a chair in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar smells and noises, while a stranger pokes their mouth with cold instruments can be frightening. Fear of the unknown is normal, but parents play an essential role in easing their child’s fear. Use the following tips to help your child feel more comfortable before and during visits to the dentist and to promote good dental health for the rest of their life.
Keeping a positive attitude before the appointment
It is recommended that your child’s first dental visit to be within six months of their first tooth coming through or before their first birthday. Early visits to the dentist help children become more familiar and relaxed with dental procedures. Explain to your child about check-ups, but keep details straightforward and to the point. Allow your family dentist to answer more complex questions, as they have the skills to describe procedures in an accurate but non-threatening way to children. Make sure you have a positive attitude and empathise that visiting the dentist is important to keep teeth healthy and strong – it is not a choice, but a necessity.
One idea to prepare your child for a check-up in a fun way would be to play pretend. Demonstration is a great strategy to use to help your child feel at ease with a new experience. Avoid making any kind of drilling noises and consider using a mirror to show your child what a dentist will be looking for in their mouth. When discussing the dentist, make sure you do not talk about any unpleasant dental experiences you may have had in the past. It is important not to pass on any negative connotations with the dentist.
Working with your family dentist
On the day of the appointment remember to stay calm and upbeat. Anxiety or negative energy displayed by parents can easily be picked up by children. Don’t promise a reward for going to the dentist as it can increase apprehension. Giving sweet treats after the visit is a bad idea as it sends the wrong message after an appointment promoting the importance of healthy teeth. A surprise visit to the park or another fun location following the visit is more appropriate, alongside praise for good behaviour.
During the visit, remember that it is normal for young children to whine or wiggle when being examined by a stranger. Let your family dentist guide you; they, and their staff, are used to working with children. Their experience will help put your child at ease and allow the visit to run smoothly. The dentist may ask you to hold your child’s hand or talk to them. Some dental practices have televisions on the wall for distraction, along with toys and even game consoles in the waiting area.
Choosing the right family dentist
It is likely your child’s first dental appointment will run a lot smoother than you may think. If you do not think your family dentist was successful in easing your child’s fears, you may want to consider looking for another dentist. Positive experiences at the dentist in childhood are important to prevent dental fear and anxiety, which can prevent the neglect of teeth. Visiting the dentist, alongside a good home cleaning routine, is an essential part of caring for teeth and oral health.