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Preparing your child for their first dental visit can bring out feelings of anxiety for both you and your child. Your child will likely be curious and have questions about what will happen at the dentist.
You may feel anxious because you’re not sure how to explain what will happen at the dentist without scaring your kid. Many kids don’t like going to the dentist, but as a parent, you can do a few things to help prepare your kid for their first trip to the dentist.
Choosing the Right Dentist
One of the most important steps you can take to help your child have a positive experience at the first dental visit is to choose the right dentist.
I recommend choosing a dental office that has both a dentist and supporting staff with either extensive experience working with children or specializes in pediatric dentistry.
Try visiting the dental clinic first to get a feel for the environment. Do the staff seem friendly and courteous or do they seem rushed and rude? Is the dental clinic clean? Does it feel warm and inviting? If you answered no to any of these questions, I suggest looking elsewhere.
Your child needs people around him/her to be supportive, patient, and understanding. If the dentist or staff are rude or rushed, it will likely make your child’s fears or anxieties worse, especially if they’re already hesitant about the whole experience.
Discuss what to Expect, but Limit the Details
Some people say, “the more, the better.” However, do the opposite when explaining the details to your child. When you talk about what they can expect at the dentist, keep it short and simple. You only want to include details that are necessary.
If you start talking about the painful root canal your sister had last week, you can bet your kid will hate the dentist before even going for the first time.
Also, let your kid know ahead of time when they will be going to the dentist. It might seem easier to avoid telling your kid until the last minute.
However, this can backfire and make things worse. Your child may have even more anxiety about the whole process if you wait right before the appointment. Give them enough time to process and ask questions about their first trip to the dentist.
Most children love to play and act out situations. Get them excited about their first dental visit by saying, “Let’s play dentist!” When you guys role play, keep your vibe positive. You want your kid to have a positive association with the dentist before he/she goes for the first time.
Read Kid-Friendly Dentist Books
If you’re not sure how to explain to your child what will go on at the dentist without totally scaring them, you can use kid-friendly books to talk about what kids can expect. One of my daughter’s favorite books about going to the dentist was, “Dora Goes To The Doctor/Dora Goes To The Dentist.” This book helped her feel more at ease before going to the dentist for the first time.
Listen to Your Child’s Concerns
If your kid talks about feeling scared about visiting the dentist for the first time, don’t brush it off. You want to listen to how they feel and acknowledge their feelings without judgment.
Comments you don’t want to say to your child are:
- Don’t worry about it.
- Just don’t think about it.
These comments dismiss your child’s concerns and their feelings are not being validated.
Instead, try using these comments or something similar:
- I hear you saying you feel scared.
- It sounds like you may feel scared about going to the dentist. I was scared too when I went to the dentist for the first time.
The first dental visit can seem intimidating, but you can help prepare and make your child’s first dental visit successful by using some of the tips described in this post.