Can you imagine your toddler sitting perfectly still in the dentist’s chair with their mouth obediently stretched wide open? You are not alone if you think this picture resembles a far-flung fantasy. However, a little preparation goes a long way in making the first dental check-up go as smoothly and as painlessly (we hope) as possible.
The early years are anexciting time and full of firsts. When the first tooth erupts, or at about one year of age, is the general recommendation of when your child’s first trip to the dentist should occur.
The first step is to choose your dentist. This may not be your own dentist unless they have experience in dealing with potentially squirming, crying kids. Choosing a paediatric dentist – one who specialises in these yowling youngsters – can be worthwhile. Do your research to see which trustworthy and kid-friendly dental practices are in your area.
Prepare yourself so you can answer any questions your child may have confidently and accurately. Often dental practices will provide you with information about the first dental visit. If not, it pays to ask exactly what to expect. Make a list of any concerns or questions you may have, such as how to choose the right toothbrush. Remember to inform the clinic of any allergies, medical conditions and medications beforehand.
Children look directly to us as experienced adults for guidance and support about how to behave and respond to new situations. Children are excellent at picking up on cues and can sense when we are happy and relaxed or are worried and scared. As their attitude and temperament are likely to reflect your own feelings,continue striving to be a positive role model, laying aside any fear or trepidation you may have. Your child has not yet been given any reason to dislike the dentist, so try to keep it this way.
Talking to your child
Children often learn by mimicking the things we say and do, even if it can get a little tiresome at times. Brushing your teeth together demonstrates good habits at home and is a great way to teach your toddler about oral health. This is an easy lead-in to talking about “going toa special kind of doctor that looks after your teeth”.
Like any new experience, visiting the dentist can be daunting the first time around and can be associated with feelings of anxiety. Knowing what to expect removes some of the trepidation associated with the unknown, as does constant reassurance that you will be with them throughout the entire visit. With young children, use simple and positive language. Tell them exactly what to expect, such as “the dentist will count your teeth” and “the dentist helps us keep our teeth strong and healthy.”
There are many entertaining resources at your disposal to help begin these discussions and introduce your child to proper dental care. Picture books with colorful illustrations about going to the dentist can be read together. Educational toys and models show exactly what their teeth look like and you can practice counting them, just like the dentist will do. Computer animations and other online resources can be both entertaining and informative, ultimately helping your toddler cope with their first trip to the dentist.
Role playing games can be used to great effect to show what will happen at the dentist. A stuffed toy or doll makes for a willing patient to practice on, and your child can act out the roles of both dentist and patient, helping to overcome their fears.
Even trips to the museum and zoo or watching the nature channel is a prime opportunity to promote curiosity and discussion. For instance, compare their teeth to the massive teeth of lions. They will be fascinated!
While at the Dentist
When at the dentist, take toys and books to keep your kid occupied while you wait. Consider bringing a special “going to the dentist book” or (if you are brave enough)having a “going to the dentist song”.Formally introduce your child to the dentist and any nurses so that they become a familiar and friendly face. Finally, planning a reward for afterwards will give your toddler something to look forward to, such as a trip to the playground. That said, try to avoid the use of bribery. Instead, promote the dentist visit as a healthy and positive experience. With these strategies, the next visit will be even easier, so there’s no reason to be down in the mouth!
Jack Kennedy works for Corson Dental, a New Zealand based dental practice specializing in cosmetic and general procedures.
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