We are all aware of the importance of dental health—not just to prevent bad breath and keep oral diseases at bay, but also from a cosmetic point of view. A great smile is one of the most important things other people notice about you. It’s a huge asset and should be looked after properly from an early age.
So, give your child the best start in life by ensuring they develop a good relationship with their dentist. Follow these tips to put your child on the right path to lifelong dental health excellence and prevent your child’s first visit to the dentist becoming a nightmare.
1: Start Early
It is never too early to get your child used to a regular oral healthcare routine. One of the first and most important things you can do is to make sure your child sees you carrying out your own dental routine. Explain to them in simple language what you are doing and why. Children love to imitate and will learn by watching and copying you.
Take advantage of tooth care products designed with kids in mind to get them excited about dental healthcare. Anything from light-up toothbrushes to sparkly toothpaste will make caring for their teeth fun, encouraging healthy habits that will set them up for success throughout their lives.
As soon as your child’s first tooth shows is the right time to book an appointment with the dentist. If your child’s first visit to the dentist involves nothing more than the dentist looking in their mouth, it is likely they will have a good experience and will be happy about visiting again. Many dentists even have a name for this kind of visit: a “happy” visit, or a “smile” visit. All too often a child’s only experiences with the dentist are when something is wrong or they are in pain. If they are used to going to the dentist when everything is ok, and it is just part of the normal routine, then they can experience a dental visit without associating it with only negative feelings.
2: Talk to Your Child About Going to the Dentist
It is important to talk to your child openly and honestly about going to the dentist, as fear of the unknown may make your child feel anxious. Be mindful of answering the questions your child asks you, but don’t respond in too much detail as sometimes this can make your child more nervous.
They may want to know what a dentist does, or what happens at the dentist’s office, or know about specific treatments that the dentist does, such as teeth cleaning, checking for cavities and fluoride treatments. In all cases, answer as simply and as honestly as you can without going into a lot of detail about things that tend to cause fear, such as needles or pain.
You do not want to scare the living daylights out of them or use words that they do not understand. So, keep it simple, explaining that we like dentists and that the dentist is a nice person who makes sure teeth stay healthy, which is necessary for eating all those lovely foods and keeping their teeth healthy for a long time.
3: Make the Experience Fun and Exciting
One study shows that 42% of children experienced anxiety before their dental appointment, so there is more that parents can do to help their children feel much more comfortable about going to the dentist.
Developing different strategies to make the dental experience fun and exciting will pay dividends for both you and your child. Children are naturally curious—so check out pictures online of dental offices and talk through the equipment—even the dental chair that reclines, rises and falls at the touch of a button will be fun and fascinating to kids.
If your child likes to play pretend, then “pretending” a visit to the dentist at home is a great way to get them comfortable with the idea. Take turns being the patient and the doctor. When it’s your turn to be the patient, make sure you talk about how much better and cleaner you feel at the end of the pretend visit, and say thank you for the great check-up.
Other motivating factors could be to let your child earn gold stars on a report card or to reward them with a new toy or a treat afterwards. Let them make their own decisions at the dental office. For example, if the dentist has a choice of flavoured toothpaste, let your child choose which one they would like.
4: Choose A Dentist Wisely for that All-Important First Appointment
Choosing the right dentist to look after your child’s dental health will set the tone for their interaction with dentists for the rest of their life, ensuring they develop healthy, lifelong habits.
A question parents often ask themselves is whether to take their child to a specialist children’s (pediatric) dentist or to take them to their family dentist. There are pros and cons to both, but for regular, everyday dental care your general practice, family dentist is likely to be a good option if you are happy with their services.
However, if your child requires specialist dentistry, then a pediatric dentist’s services will be paramount in deciding the most appropriate treatment options. For example, if your child has an accident and damages a tooth what is the best course of action? Wisdom teeth removal, bridges and dentures may work for adults but are they realistic for kids? A pediatric dentist has the necessary expertise to work with you on what is best for your child at their particular stage of development.
5: Stay Positive
It is probably fair to say the majority of us do not enjoy going to the dentist, but if parents are nervous or fearful about going to the dentist there is every likelihood that this will rub off on their children. You will need to learn how to manage your fear if you have a dental phobia, so you do not pass down your dental anxiety to your children.
Avoid discussing negative stories of dental visits with your children and emphasize all the positive experiences. Don’t be afraid to discuss your child’s anxiety with your dentist. As dental professionals, they will be used to apprehensive patients and will do their utmost to put your child at ease.
Your child’s first visit to the dentist doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Starting early, involving your child in their care and making the experience positive and fun will go a long way to making sure your child establishes a positive start to their dental health routine. These simple tips will ensure your child adopts a lifetime of good oral health habits that will see them through to their old age.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional dental advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist with any questions you may have regarding your oral health.