Ideally, your child's first visit to the dentist should be for a "well check-up". That is, don't wait until your child has a problem with his (or her) teeth before you make the first appointment to see the dentist. In addition to this, there are many things you can do to help prepare your child for his (or her) first dental visit.
1. Have your child accompany you for your appointment
Even before you make an appointment for your child to see a dentist, you should take your child along with you when you see the dentist for your own appointment. One of the best ways to show a child what an experience at the dentist is like is to let him (or her) watch while Mummy or Daddy sits in the dental chair.
This is not advisable if you yourself have are afraid of seeing the dentist. Children pick up very quickly on non-verbal cues and will be able to sense your fear. If your partner is more comfortable seeing the dentist, then have your child follow your partner instead.
Some dentists will facilitate the introductory session by allowing your child to "play" on the dental chair and give your child a mock dental check-up. The procedure will merely be to "count" the number of teeth your child has but it offers your child a comfortable and relaxing experience of sitting in the dental chair.
2. Avoid pre-empting fear or pain
If your child has never been to the dentist before, then he (or she) has no idea what it will be like. That also means he (or she) will not associate the dentist as a place to be feared or a place that may be associated with pain. So avoid offering too much unnecessary information to your child before the first appointment. Some parents unwittingly introduce fear into their children even before the first appointment by saying the wrong things.
For instance, parents who have a personal fear of going to the dentist have a habit of telling their children that there is nothing to be afraid of, or that it will not hurt. However, such comments create suspicion in a child. Why would Mummy and Daddy talk about being afraid or pain if there really was nothing to be worried about? Maybe there is something to be worried about.
3. Never use dental threats as disciplinary measures
Some parents have a habit of using the scare tactic to instill good behaviour in their children. For instance: "Behave yourself or I'll take you to the dentist and have him pull out all your teeth!"
If you must use the scare tactic, use a different example instead of a dental one because it will only make the task of taking your child to see the dentist that much more difficult when the need arises.
4. Manage negative input from older siblings
Be aware of the things that older siblings might say to the child who is about to have his (or her) first dental visit. Some older siblings like to taunt and scare younger siblings and telling them "horror" stories about the dentist right before their first visit becomes too much of a temptation to resist. Of course, this also depends on the age and awareness of the older child, and whether he (or she) associates a visit to the dentist as a positive or negative experience. Regardless, it is better to manage it before damage control becomes necessary.
5. Visit a child-friendly dental surgery
Some dentists work better with children so it is worthwhile doing a little research to find a dental surgery that offers a friendly environment for children. If the dental surgery setting is child-friendly, you can bet that the dentist will also be experienced and patient in handling children.
6. Notify the dental surgery
When you make the appointment with the dentist, tell the receptionist that this is your child's first visit to the dentist and let them know how old your child is. This will help the staff to prepare for your child's visit to help ensure that his (or her) first visit is a pleasant one.
7. Make the first visit a "well check-up"
As mentioned earlier, it is important a child's first visit to the dentist be a "well check-up". All that your child should experience in the first visit is a familiarisation with the dental setting and to have his (or her) teeth "counted" (in reality, the dentist will take note of any treatment, if any, that is required). Any further treatment that is required should be postponed to a follow-up appointment.
Remember that old adage, "first impressions last". Indeed they do, so you want to make sure your child's first impression of the dentist is a good one.
8. Make the appointment as early as possible
Ideally, have the appointment as early in the morning as possible so that you can head straight to the dental surgery as soon as your child has woken, changed and had breakfast. You want your child to be in good spirits, not hungry or tired after a long day out.
If your child has an older sibling, ask the older sibling to model sitting in the dental chair first so that your younger child can observe how easy the experience is. If this is your first child, then you should be the model for your child. Even if you aren't having your teeth checked, pretend that you are. Most dentists will be willing to accommodate this.
There are many things you can do to help prepare your child for that first dental visit. The key points to remember is to ensure that the first visit is a pleasant one and to show your child what happens during the first visit without providing undue bias.
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Shen-Li is a stay-at-home-mum dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in parenting. She has a formal educational background and former work experience in healthcare. If you enjoyed this article, visit her blog Babylicious and follow her as she learns how to raise a happy, confident and successful person.
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