If you’re a parent, you know not to tell your toddler when you’re about to take him or her to the doctor. If you tell your little one that it’s time for a trip to the pediatrician for a flu shot before you’re actually in the car, you won’t be going anywhere. The screaming and crying—not to mention the kicking, hitting, or hiding—will make it an impossible task. The same could be said about visiting the dentist, especially if your little one has never been. Those little minds can see the dentist office as one more scary (and possibly painful) place they’re forced to go—just like the doctor’s office. Here are some tips to get your child (and yourself) in the car and excited for the first visit.

Oral hygiene matters.

Yes, oral hygiene matters—even in young children. As soon as children have their first tooth eruption, they could start visiting the dentist. Even though adult teeth don’t generally come in until around the age of 6, baby teeth act as placeholders. Damage to these placeholders can cause substantial problems later. So, visiting the dentist at a young age won’t just prevent future problems, it can also help your child get used to the office and procedures, which makes a melt-down much less likely.

A childrens dentist office is cool.

That’s right—your kid’s dental office usually has the latest games, movies, and toys around, which makes kids want to hang out there. Most childrens dentist offices even have at least one fish tank with Nemo and Dory swimming around to occupy your little ones while they’re in the chair. Take a tour of a pediatric dentist office to get your child excited about the visit before an appointment. Most dentists will even let you come in for a little meet and greet with no exam required. This can get kids jazzed about going back to the cool place where they get their teeth cleaned.

Your kid will get a new toy.

Almost every childrens dentist gives out toys nowadays after an appointment—either that or a sticker or sucker. Many dentists let children choose a toy from a bin after their appointment to give them a positive association with their visit. This often sticks with kids, and they’ll be excited to return when you remind them of this. Even if your dentist doesn’t give out anything extravagant, at the very least, your child will probably get a new toothbrush, which can be incentive enough for some to like their dentist.

You get to play dentist at home.

Okay, this may not sound that exciting for you parents, but it’s a great way to get your child ready for his or her pediatric dental exam. By seeing and hearing what a dentist does, and by practicing on you or a stuffy, your child will become more comfortable with the process, and, therefore, be less afraid when the time to see the dentist arrives. He or she can even bring a “patient” and tools from home to do exams right along with the dentist. Find an app that lets kids chase away some sugar bugs that show up on teeth if they don’t brush. You can also get your kids excited about the dentist office by letting them use flavored toothpaste, toothbrushes with their favorite princess or characters on them, or by letting them see how far they can spit in the sink after brushing.

A visit to the childrens dentist for the first time doesn’t have to be a traumatic experience. It will be an important step in his or her future health and oral hygiene. Try to make the experience a positive and informative one and you’ll be less likely to have an unhappy child when the time comes.

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