Regular dental check-ups are important, but kids may not see it that way. No matter how many end-of-visit stickers are involved, a trip to the dentist is still no day at the park.
Children may eventually realize that routine dental exams are generally quick and painless, but they may encounter some doubt on the way to reaching this conclusion.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends children have their first dental visit by age 1 or within six months after their first tooth erupts. A survey finds, however, that parents tend to put off that first trip to the dentist. The average age of a child’s first dental visit is 2.6.
Babies may be too young to experience dentist-related fear, but toddlers visiting the dentist for the first time may be hit with a tinge of anxiety. So what’s the best way to help your little one shake off those jitters?
Enlist the help of your child’s favorite doll or stuffed animal and have a pretend dental exam. Use toothbrushes, floss, mirrors, and flashlights to help simulate the experience of a real check-up.
Use your fingers to count your child’s teeth starting with the letter A or the number 1. After you’ve played the role of pretend dentist, turn the tables and have your child be the dentist.
As you play, be sure to use the right tone and vocabulary. Put a positive spin on the experience that lies ahead by using phrases such as, “clean, strong, healthy teeth.” But when the day comes, avoid telling your child that “everything will be fine.”
“If you child ends up needing a treatment, he might lose trust in both the dentist and you," Joel H. Berg, D.D.S., M.S., Director of the Department of Dentistry at Seattle Children's Hospital tells Parents.com.
Let the pros help
It can be beneficial to get kids mentally prepared for their first dental visit, but it can also be important to prepare yourself. It’s quite likely that your child’s first exam won’t be smooth sailing all the way.
“It’s normal and age-appropriate” for kids to wiggle and fuss when they’re being examined by a stranger, explains Rhea Haugseth, D.M.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Staying calm and letting dental care professionals lead the way is important. Dentists are used to tantrums and can use their own special vocabulary to help kids though the experience.