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1st Timer: Taking the Pain Out of Your Child’s
First Trip to the Dentist

Taking-the-Pain-Out-of-Your-Child’s-First-Trip-to-the-DentistA child’s first visit to the dentist can bring out the worst in him or her. The fear of the unknown can spark cries, whines and even refusals to sit in that big, scary dentist chair. Learning how to calm your child’s temperament, put those fears to rest and preparing him or her for the first trip can make the experience much more bearable for you and your little one.


When to Schedule an Appointment

Many parents may be surprised to know that a child’s first visit to the dentist should be by the first birthday. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children visit a pediatric dentist by age one, especially those who are at risk of early childhood cavities. National studies continue to show that pre-school aged children are showing more cavities in recent history. By the age of four, more than one in four children in the United States have had at least one cavity, many developing as early as 2 years old.

Parents must decide for themselves, in consultation with a dentist, when it is best to make the first trip; however, according to Christy Monson, retired family therapist and author of “Love, Hugs and Hope When Scary Things happen,” as soon as children are preschool or kindergarten age, they are old enough to understand that dentists will help them protect and care for their teeth.

“Give the child the experience of visiting with the dentist so he or she will know that he or she is a friend,” suggests Monson.

Prepare for the Visit

Before asking your child to sit in the dentist’s chair, prepare him or her for the visit. Ask your librarian for books about visiting the dentist, suggests Monson, or check out any videos the library may have. An Internet search may also reveal videos about visiting the dentist, too, in addition to any resources your dentist may have on hand.

“When you have gathered your information, talk with your child, read the books and watch the videos,” says Monson. “Children do much better if they know what’s coming and exactly what will happen to them.”

Instead of focusing on potential pain the child may endure, focus on the positives. “Let them know the positives about their visit so they have something to look forward to,” suggests Monson. “If they need more intrusive work beyond just a check-up, then discuss the details of that experience at the time it’s going to happen, not before.”

Before the first visit, it may also help calm your child if you play out a scenario so he or she knows what to expect. Make it a game and ask your child to be the patient and you play the role as the dentist. Count your little one’s teeth or make up a silly song as you examine his or her mouth. Break out a toothbrush and have your child show “the dentist” how to brush those teeth. You can even hold up a mirror to show your child how the dentist will look at his or her mouth.

Keep Calm During the Visit

As you walk into the dentist’s office, it’s important to not make a big deal about the experience so your child is not filled with anxiety and nervousness. Instead, remind him or her of the fun games you played in preparation for the dentist and the discussion you had about how dentists keep your teeth healthy.

If your little one shows signs of distress, Monson suggests the following relaxation techniques:

  • Deep breathing
  • Daydreaming to keep their minds in a positive place
  • Give them a stuffed animal to hug
  • Determine a fun activity to enjoy after the appointment so the child has something fun to look forward to

Positive phrases will help calm your child as he or she climbs into the dentist’s chair, too. Phrases such as “the dentist is your friend” and “the dentist will keep your teeth healthy” will help reassure your little one during the visit. “You will want to use phrases that speak directly to the child’s fears,” says Monson. “Discuss the things the child is afraid of and create positive statements to counteract those fears.”

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