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Insider tips for your child’s first dental visit

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Tips for your toddler’s pearly whites

If you have a toddler, you may be thinking about taking her to her first dental visit.
Toddler at the dentist

Whether you think the exam will be a piece of cake, or you’re filled with dread at the idea of your child in a chair with someone looking in her mouth, these tips will help pave the way for a smooth visit.

The dentist can be a fun and friendly place, but for some — particularly small children who have never experienced a dental visit before — it can be stressful and frightening.

Plan it right

Niki, a mom of one who works at a dental office, said that most dentists advise that you schedule your toddler’s first visit around his third birthday. You can certainly go earlier, but you’ll want to gauge your child’s personality before you make an early appointment. “Most offices will start to see kids when they turn 3, but some will at age 2,” she told us. “It’s recommended they see a dentist when they turn a year old, but most kids aren't mature enough to understand what is going on and certainly won't open their mouths long enough to let a stranger in a mask and gloves mess around in there!”

Tag along

Well before your child’s first visit, have her tag along at yours (or a sibling’s) [appointment]. It can make it feel like it’s an exciting adventure if they see a loved one going through it first. Plenty of reassurance will provide a foundation of good feelings toward the dentist and can make the office, the chair, the noises and the lights seem less scary.

Practice

In the weeks leading up to your visit, spend some time preparing your child for the physical reality of a dental visit. “Make it a game beforehand,” advised Niki. “Get a penlight and ask your kiddo to open their mouth so you can see their teeth, then let them do it to you. Lots of praise is good during this.” Taking turns and allowing your child to grow accustomed to someone peering at his teeth can really help alleviate his jitters, which really helped Dana and her youngest child, Suzie, who saw the dentist for the first time at 21 months of age. ”For a whole week before, I told her we were going to the dentist, and the doctor would look in her mouth... then we would practice — especially practice not biting fingers,” she remembered. ”My hygienist said that Miss Suzie was one of her youngest, and best patients, ever!”

Lucas's first dental appointment

Arrive early

Don’t try to beat the clock and arrive right on time. Lisa, mom of three, found that arriving early helped her son relax quite a bit before his turn on the chair. “I took him with his older sister and got there early,” she explained. “He is an anxious child and I have found that arriving early and letting him play or just adjust to the new environment helps him a lot. He did great and didn't get upset at all.”

Bring along a pal

Some dentists have prop animals that procedures (from counting to cleaning the teeth) can be demonstrated on, but you might consider taking along a favorite doll or stuffed animal for a similar purpose. “For Elisabeth's first appointment we took her favorite doll (a stuffed princess Aurora) and the dentist looked at her teeth first,” shared Nicole, mom of one. “The hygienist complemented Elisabeth on how good she was.”

Bedside manner also really helps ease a child’s anxiety, so choose a dentist who has experience with small children. Regular dental visits are a part of good health, so don’t force your child to sit through a cleaning if she’s at the end of her rope and it will create a positive memory for her to build off of as she grows up.

More on toddlers and preschoolers

A checklist for choosing a pediatric dentist
Teaching kids about dental health
Are dental X-rays safe for your kids?

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