New experiences can sometimes be traumatic for young kids, and the first trip to the dentist is often no exception, although it is possible to turn a first dentist visit into a positive experience.
It’s important that your kids don’t feel like what they’re getting themselves in to is anything that needs to be feared. With the right attitude, approach and preparation, their feelings about going to the dentist should be preparing them for a life-long partnership of healthy teeth and beautiful smiles.
As a family dentist, these are my top 10 tips to help make that first trip a breeze for everyone:
1. Get in early
Starting kids at a young age is going to make the process easier. If you get the kids in early with their visits to get their teeth checked, they’ll be familiar with the environment. That way, when any significant work is needed, it’s going to be easier for them to cope, and for you to manage their expectations if they find themselves in a familiar environment
2. Watch your language
When talking to your kids about what the dentist is like, avoid the kind of words that may load them with anxiety. Words like ‘drill’ or ‘hurt’ or ‘needle’ or ‘pain’. You’re also going to want to avoid telling them about any unpleasant experiences you’ve had in the past.
3. Show them how it’s done
I ask some parents to have their kids tag along to their appointments. Through watching you go through the process without any stress or worry, they’ll see that there’s nothing for them to fret about, and they themselves will not be as apprehensive about what the experience holds for them.
4. Start small, then work your way up
A dental practice with experienced doctors in it will know the best way to deal with kids who have some degree of anxiety about them. If treatment needs to be undertaken on an anxious kid, our experience tells us that we should start small. For example, if the child has a pair of cavities in their teeth – one small and one large – then we start with the smaller one, so the child is in and out of the chair much quicker.
5. Ensure you have their trust
Maintaining trust is important when it comes to kids coming to the dentist. We encourage parents to not do or say anything that’s going to scare the kids about coming to see us. It’s a necessary part of their health care, and having a dentist visit looming over them like a threat isn’t the way to develop a healthy relationship between dentist and young patient. A visit to the dentist is something they need to do; something that’s good for them. It’s not something to be used as a threat to ensure chores get done.
6. Make believe at home
Before your first appointment, play pretend with your kid to be both dentist and the patient. With a toothbrush, count their teeth, or hold up a mirror and show them what your dentist might do when checking their teeth. Even let them role-play by using a toothbrush to clean the teeth of a favourite toy. They’ll get familiar with the routine, and the real thing should be easier.
7. Lead by example
Kids will generally become anxious about visiting the dentist most of the time because of anxiety that’s been transmitted to them, either from you or from other kids in their circle. You can’t control what the kids say to each other in the playground, but you can do your best to project a positive image of the experience to them. You may not have had a great time getting your teeth seen to growing up, but that’s not necessarily how things are going to go for your kids. Practices, technology and techniques have all improved since you were young!
8. It’s a gas!
While it’s not a universal practice among dentists, using happy gas (otherwise known as nitrous oxide) is a fairly common way for dentists to keep the kids calm. Nitrous oxide is safe for use in children and there are no long-term side effects.
9. Provide incentives
Our practice in Geelong is not the only one which has a TV installed in the ceiling for the patient to enjoy while we do our work. Our practice has Netflix as well, so the presence of this often leads to arguments between siblings about who wants to get on the chair first. As a bonus, we offer the reward of stickers at the end. Something about stickers always helps (they’re also available to well-behaved adults – upon request!)
10. Get some advice
Your dentist is going to be more than happy to explain their best advice and guidance for you so that you can best prepare your kids for their first visit. Your dentist will have years of experience behind them and will have seen it all. All kids are different, so it’s best to know what you might expect.