As recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), you should bring your child to the dentist by their first birthday or whenever their first tooth grows in. This can allow for the dentist to make sure all your child’s teeth are growing in correctly and make sure your child doesn’t have any cavities.
That being said, your child may be nervous or anxious for their first visit. It’s a new place with new sounds and sights and smells that they’re not used to. It’s going to be scary for them, so that’s why you need to be there for them and help them through it. Here are seven ways to prepare your child for their first visit:
- Explain what’s going to happen during the visit
If your child is scared or anxious about going, talking to them is probably the best thing you can do because anxiety is caused by not knowing what’s going to happen. So explain to them what may happen and that everything will be okay. You’ll be there with them at all times to make sure nothing goes wrong. Doing this could mean a successful visit before the visit even starts.
- Watch videos, read books, or play games
If talking to your child doesn’t help them, try reading them a book about the dentist or playing a game with them. There are plenty of books and tv shows (like Sesame Street) that talk all about the dentist and what happens at the dentist in a fun way so your child can learn.
- Check your child’s teeth at home
This may seem weird, but another reason a child may not like the dentist is because of the random things getting put into their mouth. To remedy this, check your child’s teeth at home. Have them open their mouth and you just run your finger over their teeth. This could help them adjust to having to keep their mouth open and the feeling of having something in their mouth. And don’t worry. You don’t actually check your child’s teeth.
- Be excited about going (positive reinforcement)
Getting your child excited about going to the dentist could be a lifesaver, so make sure that you act happy whenever the dentist is mentioned or when your visit is coming up. If your child sees that you’re happy and comfortable before or at the dentist, then they’ll adopt your behavior. They’ll start to be excited to go to the dentist. If your child does a good job, reward them after the visit with an extra hour of tv or getting a new book. That positive reinforcement will reinforce that happiness to go to the dentist in the first place.
- Create a safety signal
Beforehand, make a signal with your child that they will only do if they’re scared or in pain. Because they can’t really speak, a hand signal is better, and it gives them some control over the situation. They’ll know that if they feel scared, things will stop, and that can be a comfort for some children.
- Give your child some control
Along with the hands signal, let them take the lead on things they can. Let them pick out their outfit for the day or the song on the car ride there. Tell them to lead the way to the appointment room or even say hi to the dentist. This is another way to calm your child’s nerves as well. If they feel like they have control over the strange situation, then they’ll feel safer and not cry or be troublesome as much.
- Bring a stuffed animal or another comfort item
This is the oldest trick in the book. If your child has a comfort item, let them bring it with them. It’s their comfort item for a reason. It brings them comfort, and if they’re in a new environment, then they’ll want all the comfort they need.
Following these ways can help your child feel more comfortable with the dentist, and this can even help your child to be excited about going to the dentist. When your child likes the dentist, then they’ll continue to go to the dentist long after they have grown up, and they’ll have a healthy smile.