Recently I took two of my children, ages 2 and 4, to the dentist, and we had a great experience! However, a year ago this wasn’t the case. A year ago we were a disaster at the dentist, and I left the office feeling embarrassed and defeated. 

Needless to say, this most recent visit was a big win for us. This progress didn’t happen out of nowhere though. And since February is National Children’s Dental Health Month I thought I share some information and tips on how we were able to navigate this struggle we once had.

When Should I Take My Child To the Dentist for the First Time?

The first question you might be wondering is when you need to start making regular appointments for your child. According to the Academy of Pediatric Dentistry your child should see a pediatric dentist when the first tooth appears, or no later than his/her first birthday. You should then continue to schedule regular check-ups every six months.

Whether you plan to take your child to a specialty pediatric dentist or to your own family dentist, you can always reach out to them and ask how/when they would like to make an appointment for your child.

In my experience, my dentist suggested that my children attend my personal appointments and have their teeth checked at that time. When they turned two we started making them their own appointments, where their teeth were examined and cleaned.

How Can I Make The Best of Their Experience?

Kid at the Dentist

Whether you are 40 or 4, the dentist can be a scary place. There are lots of smells, sounds, and unfamiliar faces. Not to mention, allowing other people to prod around in your mouth can make you feel very vulnerable, especially for a young child who has no idea what to expect.

I had a dentist one time explain it to me like this: typically the only experience our children have had with medical offices, or with people wearing scrubs, is when they are at the doctor’s office. Whether at a sick appointment or a check-up, these visits are generally unpleasant because the child might be feeling unwell, receive a shot, or get poked and prodded. So while you might be able to understand that at the dentist office they only check and clean your teeth, your child has no understanding of this. And their past experience at medical offices are generally pretty scary to them. 

So, here are a few tips to help ease your child’s concerns about the dentist, and help make their appointment go a little smoother.

As I mentioned before I began taking my children to my personal appointments when they were less than a year old. This soft approach made the dentist office more familiar and less scary when it came time for their first visits. And since they were coming with me to my appointment, there was less stress and anxiety in those early appointments.

However, even with that prior introduction, once my children started having their own appointments the anxiety became real. Despite having been to the dentist several times before, the fact that they had to go themselves weighed pretty heavily on their little minds. 

Ultimately, “prepping” them for their appointments gave us the best results. As their appointments would get near, I would let them know that they had an appointment coming up, and would give them an exact time of when they could expect to go, such as, “You will have a dentist appointment next week. In seven days we will go to the dentist.” That way they weren’t worrying about it prematurely, but when the time came it didn’t come out of the blue either.

As the day got closer, I would start explaining to them what to expect at their appointment.