Before Your First Visit to the Dentist

Anyone who has young children knows that it is not always easy getting them to go to the dentist. Like any doctor visit, children can be anywhere from reluctant to downright terrified about going. For very young children the experience of going to a dentist can be hard, so it is important to begin preparing your child early for these types of experiences. The best thing to do is make the event a positive one–even when it isn’t. Children are very perceptive and they respond easily to encouragement and rewards. When they have to go to the dentist for a teeth cleaning or some other procedure, try to make the process a positive and rewarding one.

Most of the time, the fear of the dentist or any kind of doctor is the fear of pain. Children may think that they are going to be hurt or experience some pain when they sit in the dentist chair. Your job as a parent is to work to eliminate or reduce this fear that the dentist is a hurtful place. This feeling could be caused by a bad past experience with a dentist, word of mouth from siblings and peers, or just a negative association with the environment of a dentist office. There are a lot of things that kids may imagine to form a perception of the dentist, so you should encourage them to think of the dentist as a positive place.

Children, even young ones, often pick up on concepts faster than adults imagine. Explaining to your kids the importance of taking care of their teeth and how the dentist helps them do that can instill a sense of importance and respect that may help them overcome reluctance to go to the dentist. In other words, putting the experience in context to personal health and wellbeing can help kids see their dental checkups in a more positive way. This requires encouraging good brushing habits and dental care as an extension of dental visits. When kids understand why dental care is important, they’ll understand why the trips to the dentist are important.

In addition to this approach, you can also reward kids for good brushing and good behavior at the dentist. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a reward of food; it can be related to something else. In fact, rewarding kids with sweets after a trip to the dentist may not always be the most effective way to encourage good dental health. As long as the kids understand the effect sugar has on their teeth and can still practice good oral care, this type of reward is fine. You just have to make sure it doesn’t become problematic and begin to affect their health. Rewards can also take the form of doing something your kids want to do–like taking them to a movie, a sports game, etc. The important part is not to condition them for elaborate rewards every time they go to the dentist, but keep the event positive to reinforce that the dentist is not a punishment. With your encouragement and a professional, friendly dentist, your kids might even come to enjoy the visit.