It’s understandable that a child may feel nervous or scared when they first visit the dentist; after all, they're still getting to know the world and the appointment entails going into a new environment with new people and unfamiliar technology and tools everywhere they look.
And for children who aren’t accustomed to dental care, having their mouths examined may feel intimidating and invasive.
Having said this, it’s important that your child’s first dental experiences are positive. Those initial visits can set the tone for your child’s future attitude to dental care, so you'll want to get them off to a good start!
One of the best things you can do to make your children’s first dental appointments non-threatening and positive is to prepare them ahead of time. Sit down with your children when they’re feeling calm and relaxed, and have a chat with them about what to expect.
Here’s some advice about what you should – and shouldn’t – say.
Don’t be too specific; choose your words wisely.
Try to avoid words that might seem frightening to your child. For example, 'needle' or 'drill' might be alarming. Instead, you could replace 'needle' with 'spray' or 'spritz', or try 'whistle brush' instead of drill.
Ultimately, your best bet is to keep it simple. You could just say:
'The dentist is going to count your teeth and make them nice and clean.'
If your child asks follow-up questions, be honest, but continue to keep it as simple as you can, and use mild language.
Put aside your own negative feelings and experiences.
Many adults feel nervous about visiting the dentist as well. It’s quite normal, but you probably don’t want to pass those feelings on to your children!
When you talk about your dental experiences and feelings with your child, try to keep your language mild and positive.
Consider a pretend visit.
Before the first dentist appointment, roleplay (play pretend) a dentist visit with your child. You can be the dentist and they can be the patient. All you'll need is a toothbrush.
Count your little one's teeth by starting with the number one or the letter A. Avoid making drilling noises or lining up other "instruments." You can even hold up a mirror and show her how the dentist might look at and check their teeth.
Let your child role-play by using a toothbrush to clean the teeth of a stuffed animal or doll. The key is getting your child familiar with the routine so that they're more comfortable for the real visit.