How to Prepare Your Child (and Yourself) for Their Next Dentist Visit
8 Dental Appointment Tips for Kids and Parents
Going to the dentist can be a big deal for kids, who may experience a range of feelings before, during, and after a dental appointment. Like with a doctor’s visit, your child may be scared or nervous for a variety of reasons, including being in an unfamiliar place and having their teeth examined or treated by another person. Some children may also worry about being separated from their parents, or be afraid of feeling pain or discomfort.
Of course, a dental visit may also be difficult for you as a parent! Though you understand how routine dental visits nurture your child’s immediate and long-term wellbeing, knowing your child is experiencing fear, discomfort, or anxiety is challenging. Furthermore, some parents experience their own dental anxiety, which can be triggered and hard to manage during their child’s appointment.
No matter what you or your child may be experiencing, you can help prepare your child (and yourself) for their next dental appointment with a few simple strategies and a little creativity. Here are 8 practical tips to help you get ready for your child’s next dental visit, whether it’s their first time or a follow-up visit.
1. Connect with your family dentist before the appointment.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s appointment, connecticating with your family dentist can give you the tools you need to feel ready. Some things you might ask about include:
- Appointment preview: Get the details on how the dental appointment will look from start to finish, so you can explain it to your child with confidence (see #3 and #5).
- Age tips: A child’s dental experience may change with age. For instance, infants and toddlers may say “no” to most everything and only feel comfortable being held by a parent, while a four- or five-year-old may feel comfortable visiting the dentist and sitting independently during treatments. Your family dentist can share age-appropriate tips to help prepare your child and yourself for their upcoming visit.
- Dental anxiety: If you have dental anxiety during your child’s dental visits, know that your experience is common and that you’re not alone. Before your child’s appointment, consider sharing your experience with your family dentist. Your entire dental team is always available to listen and to help you through challenging moments.
2. Pick appointment times wisely.
You probably won’t be surprised by this word of the wise: scheduling your child’s dental visit during their routine nap time, down time, or meal time is best avoided.
Children are often in good spirits around mid-morning, when they’re well rejuvenated from a good night’s sleep and breakfast. As you know best when your child tends to be hungry, tired, happy, or grumpy, use their routine and your instinct as a guide when scheduling their appointment.
3. Tell your child about the appointment.
Though they may have an immature vocabulary (known as expressive language), young children also have the ability to comprehend more complex vocabulary (known as receptive language). In fact, children as young as 14 months are highly sensitive to social and emotional cues, such as detecting changes in voice, breathing rate, and body language when someone is expressing anger or happiness.
That said, using positive language and tones to explain a dental visit helps avoid surprises, manages expectations, and sets your child up for a more comfortable visit. For example, you could say in an uplifting way: “Next week, we’re going to visit the dentist and his helpers. His name is Dr. Sexton. He’s going to look into your mouth to see how your teeth are growing and make sure they’re all happy and healthy. One of his helpers is also going to clean your teeth so they are super bright and shiny.”
If your child is having a dental issue, you could tell them in a non-scary way: “The dentist is going to find out what’s bothering you and fix it so you can feel better.”
Though your young child may not fully understand and appreciate why they’re at the dentist for a few more years, calm and open communication can help pave the way for long-term trust and understanding.
4. Read a book about going to the dentist.
Reading out loud to your child has numerous benefits, including the development of language and social skills. Indeed, reading out loud is so powerful it can even reach your child while they’re still in the womb.
Alongside feeding their imagination and development, storytime also helps teach your child about the world, including dental visits. Below are five of many wonderful books you can read to your child to help them start understanding the importance of going to the dentist:
- “Dentist” (First Time) by Jess Stockham
- “Curious George Visits the Dentist” by H.A. Rey
- “Just Going to the Dentist” by Mercer Mayer
- “Open Wide: Tooth School Inside” by Laurie Keller
- “Maisy, Charley and the Wobbly Tooth” by Lucy Cousins
5. Play dentist during imaginative play.
Like reading, imaginative play stimulates your child’s creativity and helps them understand the world around them. Imaginative play can also be a way to answer questions and talk about feelings or fears. To play dentist with your child, make one of their toys “comfortable” on a cushion or chair before placing something over it like a towel or paper for a dental bib. You can even place sunglasses over the toy’s eyes while you pretend to examine and clean its teeth with make-believe dental instruments, floss, and polish. Have fun, and let your own imagination and dental experience inspire your play.
6. Bring a comfort object.
Allowing your child to bring and hold a favorite toy or comfort object, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, during their dental visit can help soothe feelings of stress and anxiety. A comfort object can help your child recall the safety and ease they feel at home, and feel like they’re surrounded with loving company.
7. Be ahead of preventable stressors.
Sometimes little things, like thirst or restrictive clothing, can agitate us below the surface and make the situation at hand more challenging—for you and your kid! Things like comfortable clothes, an empty bladder, and a nourished body can help prevent unnecessary stress from building beneath the surface.
8. Practice self-care and calming techniques.
With their ability to help reduce stress and keep it at bay, self-care and calming techniques can help you foster calm and patience in multiple situations. So if you’re experiencing nervousness or fear around your child’s dental appointment, treat yourself with care, such as getting enough sleep, and use calming techniques, such as breathing slowly and deeply. On the day of the appointment, you may also consider swapping out that extra cup of coffee for herbal tea, taking an early morning walk, or enjoying another personally uplifting activity.
From their first dental visit and through each childhood visit, Dr. Sexton and his entire dental team love helping you and your child have the best dental experience. To receive answers to your questions or to schedule your child’s next dental appointment, contact our office today.