As a pediatric dentist, I am often asked by parents, “How do I prepare my child for their upcoming dental visit?” When talking to your child about an upcoming appointment, oftentimes less is more is a good start! With the best of intentions, parents believe we can best prepare our children by giving them every detail. However, this can also induce fear in a child as they observe mom and dad making a big deal about the appointment. Our own personal fears and anxiety toward the dentist can easily be transferred to the child. Your discussion should be brief and positive. Use phrases such as, “The dentist is going to count your teeth,” or, “I am excited to show the dentist how well we brush at home,” or, “The dentist is going to make sure we don’t have any sugar bugs on your teeth.” Avoid phrases such as, “Don’t worry, this won’t hurt,” or, “I know, no one likes the dentist but we just have to do this.” Our goal as pediatric dentists is to gain your child’s trust and build a foundation for positive future dental appointments.
We ease children through the dental appointment by first telling them what we are going to do, then show them how we will do it, and then actually perform the procedure. You can reassure your child that the dentist is going to talk to you about everything they do before they do anything. We have many special dental words. In our office we use, “Mr. Bumpy” instead of a dental drill, “Mr. Thirsty” takes the saliva out of their mouths, “sleepy juice” puts their tooth to sleep instead of saying the word “shot”.
Reading books about your child’s favorite characters visiting the dentist is also very helpful. We have found our patients to like The Tooth Book by Dr. Seuss, The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist by Stan and Jan Berenstain, Dora the Explorer Show Me Your Smile! By Ricci Christine and Robert Roper, Sesame Street Elmo Visits the Dentist by P.J. Shaw and Tom Brannon, and Peppa Pig: Dentist Trip by Neville Astley and Mark Baker. This is just a start to a very long list of great books out there. Another way to prepare your child is to let them play the role of the dentist and use one of their dolls or stuffed animals as the patient. The doll can lay in the child’s lap and they can brush the dolls teeth and count them. You can bring the doll to the first appointment and let the dentist check the doll’s teeth before your child’s teeth. We want to avoid bribes, as this puts the idea in their head that going to the dentist is a bad and scary thing if it requires some form of bribery to get through it.
Taking care of your child’s teeth is a team effort between the parents, child and dentist. Parents should voice any concerns they have about upcoming dental visits to the dentist or staff prior to any appointments. Answering your questions and relieving any anxiety you have prior to the appointment can be very helpful to your child. Children can quickly detect their parents’ emotions and a happy, calm parent is a great start to a great dental visit.
Parents should be present during cleaning and exam appointments to learn with the child about proper oral hygiene and to see how the child is doing at home. As the dentist or staff works with your child, however, parents should take the role of a quiet observer. When a parent is trying to talk to a patient at the same time as the dentist it can become very confusing and overwhelming to the child.
The end of the appointment is also an important time to stay positive. Parents are usually very surprised at how well young children do at the dentist and can’t believe how smoothly the appointment went. Even if the appointment didn’t go as one had hoped, it is important to focus on something that did go well. You can say, “I am so proud of you for sitting in the chair,” or, “Did it tickle when the dentist counted your teeth?” instead of, “Was it painful?” The prize box is always waiting for a child up front and there is always something positive we can take from the appointment that is deserving of a reward!
Dr. Nicole Stoker is a pediatric dentist for The Smile Shop and is a mother of two.