10 Tips for Handling a Child’s First Trip to the Dentist

dentistWhile “fun” is rarely the first word that comes to mind for adults when they’re confronted with the prospect of a trip to the dentist, those without serious phobias are usually able to handle the occasion with at least a sort of calm resignation. For kids, however, this may not always be the case. From tantrums to terror, there are a variety of ways your child can react to their first trip to the dentist, and very few of them are favorable if you’re not prepared. These 10 tips can help you sail in and out of your child’s first dental appointment with relative ease, and can make the prospect of subsequent visits less harrowing.

  • Start Early – While the official recommendation for kids’ first dental visit is six months after the appearance of a first tooth or at one year of age, most American kids don’t visit the dentist for the first time until they’re around three years old. By that time, problems may have begun to present themselves, and the first experience your child has with a dentist may be a negative one. The earlier you establish a relationship with a pediatric dentist, the easier the first visit is likely to be.
  • Don’t Telegraph Your Own Fears – You may be terrified of the dentist, but your child will have no negative connotations to apply to dentistry when she’s never visited one before. Be sure that you’re not telegraphing your own fears or concerns during the visit, as your little one will look to you for behavioral cues and may pick up on your unease.
  • Stay Optimistic and Upbeat – There’s no real reason to dread the first trip to the dentist if your child is young, has no negative associations with the dentist and hasn’t been taught to fear the event. Just maintaining a cheerful and upbeat disposition while you’re in the waiting room and, later, in the exam room, can make all the difference in the quality of your child’s first visit.
  • Let Your Child Know What to Expect – If your child is an older toddler, she’ll need to know what to expect in order to be as comfortable as possible. Let her know that the dentist will look in her mouth, touch her teeth and talk about how she should take care of them. Don’t talk about cavity fillings, drilling or any other scary situations, and keep your answers matter-of-fact and honest.
  • Bring a List of Questions and Concerns – It’s easy to lose track of the things you mean to ask or address when you’re trying to wrangle a child while talking to the dentist. For your own peace of mind, be sure that you make a list of questions and concerns in advance, and that you bring it along for reference.
  • Use Comfort Items – A favorite teddy bear or blanket will be welcome in the office of a dentist who specializes in kids’ oral health, especially if your little one is nervous or afraid. Even if she has to hand Teddy over during the exam, knowing that a comfort object is waiting can make a real difference for your child.
  • Choose Your Child’s Dentist Carefully – Your first instinct may be to take your child to your own dentist for her first check-up, but that’s not necessarily the best course of action. If your dentist doesn’t have a wealth of experience when it comes to working with kids, it may be best to seek out one who does. Your dentist may even be able to make a recommendation.
  • Determine Exam Room Policies Before Making an Appointment – Some dentists encourage parents to accompany kids into the exam room, while others will have policies preventing you from sitting in on the appointment. If you feel strongly about accompanying your child to the exam room, you’ll need to determine specific office policy before making an appointment.
  • Talk About Sucking Habits – Whether it’s a bottle, a pacifier or even a thumb, your child’s dentist needs to know about sucking habits your child has during the initial visit. These behaviors can have an impact on oral health as your child gets older, and are important bits of information for your dentist to have on hand.
  • Avoid the Urge to Medicate Your Child – Some parents are under the misapprehension that not only is medicating a child to induce drowsiness safe, but it’s also a wise choice for potentially stressful situations like a visit to the dentist. Aside from being physiologically dangerous, medicating your child could leave her too groggy to cooperate with the dentist and can impede the process significantly.
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