Taking kids to the dentist is necessary to keep their teeth healthy and promote excellent oral hygiene habits. But from a child's point of view, a trip to the dentist can be a scary event -- lying on a chair in an unfamiliar room filled with unfamiliar noises and objects, all while a stranger is poking cold, metallic, and unusual instruments in his mouth. Plus, as your child's teeth continue to fall out and grow, he may take at least 10 trips to the dentist before starting kindergarten. To help ease future visits for your child (and for the dentist!), follow these steps so that he will feel comfortable and more relaxed.
The earlier a child visits the dentist, the better. "This will provide your child with a 'dental home' where all her needs -- whether a periodic preventive visit or an emergency -- will be taken care of," says Rhea Haugseth, D.M.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. It's best that the first visit starts at age 1 or when the first tooth is visible.
When preparing for a visit, especially the first time, try not to include too many details. Doing so will raise more questions, and adding more information about an extra treatment like a filling he might need may cause unnecessary anxiety. Keep a positive attitude when discussing an upcoming visit, but don't give your child false hope. "Avoid saying that everything will be fine, because if you child ends up needing a treatment, he might lose trust in both the dentist and you," says Joel H. Berg, D.D.S., M.S., Director of the Department of Dentistry at Seattle Children's Hospital.
"Don't use the 'S' (shot),'H' (hurt) or 'P' (pain) words with children. Let the staff introduce their own vocabulary to children to help them get through difficult situations," Dr. Berg suggests. Instead, tell your child that the dentist is looking for "sugar bugs" so he can clean them off their teeth. "My favorite thing to have parents tell their child is that we are going to check their smile and count their teeth -- that's it, nothing else," says Michael J. Hanna, D.M.D., a pediatric dentist in McKee Rocks, Pennsylvania, and a national spokesperson of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Use positive phrases like "clean, strong, healthy teeth" to make the visit seem fun and good rather than scary and alarming.