The recommended age to start bringing kids to the dentist is around one year old. By taking your toddler to the dentist just as their first teeth start appearing you can foster a positive lifelong interaction between your child and the dentist. But what do you do if you’ve waited? How do you help your child cope with the dentist when they’re three or four years old? Whatever the reason for the delay in the first dentist visit, it’s just as important, if not more important, to begin building healthy dental habits now to promote good oral hygiene for kids.
The most obvious place to start is by finding a dentist for kids. These professionals are very experienced in working with children, and will gently lead your child into their first check-up. That being said, once you have your appointment, think about what you want to do leading up to it. Many experts recommend reading picture books with your children and playing pretend dentist. All things which will help boost your child’s excitement for their first visit. However, you know your child best. If they get overwhelmed by this new information, its okay to prep as little or as much as needed.
The older your child is the more they will understand what’s going on. As simple as that seems, it does mean you have to change the way you refer to this experience. When you tell your child about their first dental procedures, avoid scary words like ‘pain’ or ‘drill’ that will only produce anxiety. In addition, make sure you aren’t sugarcoating the truth using white lies. You may tell your child the dentist is just going to ‘tickle’ their teeth or you may want to reassure them that ‘the dentist won’t find anything’. If you’ve waited until age three or four, it’s very likely your child will have cavities or another dental problem. On average 40% of children will have cavities before kindergarten. If you tell your child ‘there’s nothing wrong’ and suddenly they need a pediatric dental treatment, you will lose their trust. It is best to treat the experience with honesty — not brutal and scary honesty — just make sure to set realistic expectations. It’s okay to tell your child you don’t know what the dentist will find.
You can find the best dentist for kids, prep your heart out, and promise all manner of prizes for good behavior, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Going to the dentist is hard no matter your age. Your three or four year old may suddenly decide in the middle of their first appointment that they are done cooperating. This is a new experience for them and it can be scary. Be aware of your own anxiety and how it can impact your child. Try not to get angry or frustrated during the appointment; instead, gently support your child throughout the visit. You may even need to hold them down while the dentist does their work. This isn’t giving up and it’s not going to ruin all future dental visits. Just make sure to focus on the fact that oral hygiene is an important part of your family’s overall health.
Having found the best dentist for kids, allow them to help guide this first appointment. Use the phrases they use and display your trust in their ability. Your child will imitate you. Finally, make sure that you communicate your child’s needs whenever necessary. For instance, if your child gets overwhelmed easily, let their new dentist know before the appointment.