It’s understandable that a child may feel nervous or scared when they first visit the dentist. After all, they’re entering a new environment with new people, encountering unfamiliar technology and tools. And for children who aren’t already accustomed to dental care, having their mouths examined may feel invasive or overstimulating.
With this in mind, it’s crucial that your child’s first experiences at the dentist are positive. Those initial visits can set the tone for your child’s future attitude toward dental care, so you'll want to set a foundation of positive association!
One of the best things you can do to make your children’s first dental appointments non-threatening and positive is to prepare them ahead of time. Sit down with your children when they’re feeling calm and relaxed, perhaps doing something they like, and have a chat with them about what to expect.
Here’s some advice about what you should – and shouldn’t – say.
Choose your words wisely and don’t be too specific.
Try to avoid words that might seem scary to your child, like "needle" or "drill." Instead, you could replace "needle" with "spray" or "spritz," or try "whistle brush" instead of drill.
Ultimately, your best bet is to keep it simple. You could just say, "The dentist is going to count your teeth and make them nice and clean."
If your child asks follow-up questions, be honest (it might not help help to omit information), but continue to keep it as simple as you can and use mild language.
Play down your own negative feelings and experiences.
Many adults feel nervous about visiting the dentist as well. It’s quite normal, especially if you yourself had a surprising first experience, but you probably don’t want to pass those feelings down to your children!
When you talk about your experience at the dentist, try to keep your language positive and your tone relaxed. Talk about the dentist like you would about something simple and mundane, like going to the grocery store.
Consider a pretend visit.
Before their first dentist appointment, you can play pretend with your child. You can be the dentist and they can be the patient. All you'll need is a toothbrush.
Have your little one lay down on the "dentist chair" and count their teeth. Avoid making drilling noises or lining up other "instruments," keep it simple. You can even hold up a hand mirror and show the child how the dentist might look at their teeth.
After they're done, give your child a turn at being the dentist to humanize the role. Give them a toothbrush and a stuffed animal or doll to be their patient. The key is getting your child familiar with the routine so that they're more comfortable for the real visit.