By Leah Kinney, RDH, MS
“My daughter just turned 3 and her first dental appointment is coming up in a few weeks. I had bad dental experiences when I was growing up and always hated seeing the dentist. How do I make sure my daughter has better luck than I did?”
First, congratulations! A child’s first dental appointment is a milestone. Second, the fact that you are even asking this question tells me that you recognize that parents have a lot of influence on how the first visit goes – that’s great! Here are some things you can do to make sure your daughter’s first dental visit is a good one.
Find the right provider
- Talk to other parents about which dental office they take their kids to. Although it’s not necessary, finding a pediatric dentist may be a good idea, especially for very young children.
- Call around and ask questions. The dental office should be able to describe what to expect at the first visit. For example, some offices use a “Tell, Show, Do” technique when treating pediatric patients.
Play up the first visit
- Talk about the first visit with your child. A lot. Start talking about and acting excited for the appointment ahead of time, so that your child is excited to go. “In just THREE MORE DAYS we get to visit the dentist, sit in the big chair and meet Dr. Smilie!”
- Show your child a video about what to expect at their first dental visit and work on some dental activity sheets before the appointment to get them excited to go.
Don’t share your “stuff”
If you have had a bad dental experience or dental trauma in your past, don’t share it with your child. When I was a practicing hygienist, I always cringed when a parent sat their child in the chair to see me and said “Ok now honey, I know this is scary but you can do it!” It’s best to let the child experience the dental visit without any pre-conceived ideas/fears.
Know your child’s limit and respect it
If you find yourself at the appointment and your child just isn’t having it, it’s OK. It is better for the child to have a positive experience and not get everything done than for them to be scared about going next time. If your child gets to ride in the chair, meet “Mr. Thirsty” (the spit-sucker) and get some “tooth vitamins” (fluoride), then it was a success. The subsequent visits will progress as the child becomes more comfortable with the dental team.
No matter how the visit goes, celebrate your child’s first time at the dental office.
- Go to the bookstore or library and get some books
- Go to a movie
- Head to the park and enjoy some time outside
- Go bowling/roller skating/ice skating or some other activity that you may not often engage in
- Go to the zoo
- Visit the aquarium
- Take in a sporting event
- Go for lunch together
- Rent a movie and watch it at home with a favorite snack
- Get their nails painted
- Go for a bike ride
- Stay up late with mom and/or dad
- Make some art/buy some art supplies
- Play a game with mom and/or dad
- Have friends over to play
- Cook something together in the kitchen
- Choose what’s for dinner
Leah Kinney is a dental hygienist and the Director of Clinical Business Development at Delta Dental of Minnesota. In her current role, Leah works to educate and empower Minnesotans to take control of their oral hygiene through proper homecare and regular check-ups with their dentist. Leah received her dental hygiene and undergraduate degrees from Argosy University in Eagan, MN and also holds a master’s degree in legal studies from Kaplan University.