Let’s be honest: Not many of us really relish going to the dentist.
Whether it’s down to braces as a child or a painful tooth extraction, we associate the dentist’s chair with trauma.
Our innocent, curious offspring are luckier than us—they have no innate fear of dentists and no negative associations from previous experiences.
As parents, it’s our responsibility to drive our children’s positive first impressions so they can always look forward to check-up time.
So how do we introduce our little ones to the dentist and set the scene for their future oral hygiene?
Start Them Young
If you take your child to the dentist at the first sign of a cavity, they will forever associate their visits with trauma.
The worldwide recommendation is for an initial check-up before the first birthday, which is as much about teaching the parents as setting up good future habits.
“Sometimes we see children for the first time when they’ve got cavities and it’s very difficult then to try and build a positive relationship,” ~ Dr. Caroline Mo
“The thinking behind it is focused on prevention and education of the parent, to give them information on diet and hygiene, and to try and keep it a nice experience,” Hong Kong-based dental surgeon Dr. Caroline Mo explains.
“Sometimes we see children for the first time when they’ve got cavities and it’s very difficult then to try and build a positive relationship,” she adds.
Follow the Leader
Start by bringing your little one along on check-ups for yourself or an older sibling so they can get used to the sounds, the smells, the machines.
It’s also important that they get to know the dentist.
Mom-of-two, Dr. Mo, adds: “It’s all about acclimatization and getting used to the environment so it’s not so alien to them.
“It’s about them recognizing and becoming familiar with everything that we use—and with us. They have no idea who we are, so for them we’re a stranger.”
“Children are not intrinsically fearful of the dentist. They don’t have the concept, but a lot of the time the parents are scared,” ~ Dr. Mo
Know Your Stuff
Your child’s diet, dental hygiene and habits (such as pacifiers) all impact the likelihood of them getting cavities.
So if you speak to your dentist when your baby is little, you’ll know the danger areas to watch for at home. This can prevent—or at least minimize—future problems.
Pediatric dentist Dr. Irene Lau explains: “You go to the doctor for your well-baby check-up. Why don’t you come to the dentist? Worldwide, pediatric societies are trying to promote a first well-baby for the teeth.
“It’s really, really important that you come in for a first visit just to talk to your dentist so they can tell you what to do.”
Tooth decay is the number one chronic infectious disease among children.
Do Your Prep
It’s worthwhile teaching your toddler about what’s coming before you get to the dentist’s office.
Their favorite TV or book characters will have storylines that involve dentists, so they know what to expect.
Dr. Lau, who also specializes in treating children with special needs, believes in laying the groundwork first.
She says: “Prep your child and give them a social start with something like Peppa Pig’s Dentist Trip.
Read them the story, show them the chair and the light so they’re prepped for it before they come in.”
Make it Fun
The dentist doesn’t have to be a cold, clinical experience—find a practice that’s dedicated to making everything fun for kids.
Much more thought has gone into this today, so you can find rooms kitted out with playrooms, toys, cartoon characters and even TVs on the ceiling.
“The most important thing is for kids to feel comfortable,” Dr. Mo explains. “If we suddenly just bring them into the surgery, it’s very intimidating for them—there’s no time to relax.
“So we need to let them know that dentists are fun!”
Hide Your Fear
You may hate the dentist, but if your children pick up on this then you won’t be helping them.
“Children are not intrinsically fearful of the dentist—they don’t have the concept. But a lot of the time, the parents are scared,” Dr. Mo reveals.
“So the children have that fear already before they even see us and then we’re working uphill to try and rectify that fear.”
New-York trained Dr. Lau agrees: “Parents who are scared of the dentist oftentimes will share that with kids and they absolutely should not say anything about being scared!”