As a parent of a small child, taking your little one anywhere new can be a daunting experience - more so for the parent than the child! Are they going to cooperate? Are they going to hide behind my leg the whole time? Are they going to throw a tantrum worthy of an Academy Award? A child's first visit to the dentist doesn't have to be something to dread though. Here are my tips for getting your child prepared to have their teeth checked for the first time.
The best thing you can do is to make sure there aren't any surprises. For example...
Talk about what's going to happen. Don't lie to them and say you're going out for ice-cream, they're going to find out eventually. Some important things to include are:
- Sitting in the big chair, then the chair moving so they are lying down.
- Wearing sunglasses and a paper bib.
- A bright light shining on their teeth.
- The dentist wearing glasses, a mask, and gloves (like the doctors on tv).
- A tiny little mirror the dentist will use to look in their mouth.
Also talk about what kind of behaviour you expect from them:
- Lying nice and still in the chair.
- Opening their mouth really wide when the dentist asks.
- Waiting patiently and quietly if there are siblings or parents also having a check-up.
Be a great role model. If you are a nervous dental patient yourself, consider having someone else escort your child to their appointment. Your child will pick up on your anxiety and may mirror how you feel.
Use positive, gentle language to describe what the dentist will do. "Look, check, count, touch, tickle" are all good words. "Poke, jab, scrape, pull, stab" are not. If you've got people in your life who you know will say the wrong thing, don't tell them your child is going to the dentist. Uncle Bob telling little Jimmy, "The dentist is going to pull all your teeth out", is not as amusing as Uncle Bob thinks it is. If your child is old enough, ask them what they think will happen, and if there's anything they are worried about. A simple chat may be all it takes to allay their fears.
There are a multitude of positive books and tv shows about visiting the dentist. You will more than likely be able to find one that stars your child's favourite character to read or view leading up to your visit. I'd recommend staying away from Finding Nemo though, the threat of a pelican flying in the window may be a bit much for a small child!
If you know it's the sort of thing your child responds well to, you can even go as far as role-playing before the appointment. Some pharmacies stock plastic dental examination mirrors your child can practice with at home, and food preparation gloves make a great costume accessory for the budding junior dentist.
Finally, book the appointment for a time of day you know your child will be happiest. Make sure you won't be rushed, and that your child isn't tired or hungry.
I'm so fortunate in that I will never have to worry about my children having their first dental check - I get to look at their teeth every day. As a mum and a dentist though, I can appreciate that the first dental visit can be an anxious experience for both parent and child. If you've done your best to get your child ready, then chances are the appointment will go off without a hitch. And if it doesn't, at least you've done everything you could. A good dentist will understand that we all have bad days, and you can always try again next week!