Tips for a Positive Dental Experience at Every Age

Have you ever imagined that your child or teen could love going to the dentist? We know, it may seem far-fetched at the beginning, especially if your child is going through a phase of independence or if they’ve previously had a negative oral health experience or dental experience.

But no matter what your child’s stage or dental history, a positive relationship with oral health and dentistry is still possible with a few intentional adjustments and actions. From universal guidelines for parents to age-appropriate tips for kids, here’s how you can help your child love going to the dentist.

Universal Tips

Check in with your dental feelings.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who experiences dental anxiety, you may find that bringing your child to the dentist triggers your own nervousness or worries, which can in turn influence how your child feels about their dental visits. The good news is you’re not alone in navigating dental anxiety, and there is still ample opportunity to face your fears and make the dentist a positive experience for both you and your child.

Try to treat your and your child’s dental experiences as separate and unique, and take care not to express your own fear or dislike of the dentist in front of your child. Instead, talk it out with someone you trust, like a partner or therapist, and share your experience with both your and your child’s dental teams for on-site support and guidance.

Practice calming self-care techniques.

Whether you’re gearing up for your or your child’s dentist appointment, some intentional self-care can help you manage stress or anxiety. To prevent and soothe nervous feelings, try taking a few slow, deep diaphragmatic breaths (also known as belly breathing), engaging in light-to-moderate physical activity, or taking some extra time to enjoy other healthy activities you find personally grounding, nourishing, or calming.

Use open and positive communication.

Honestly and positively talking with your child about the dentist can offer many benefits. While open communication about an upcoming dental visit can prevent a jolting surprise, using positive language can help your child feel more prepared and at ease for what’s coming. Having a calm conversation also gives your child or teen the opportunity to ask questions, share their concerns, and be an active participant in their oral health experience.

To continue nurturing a positive dental experience, offer your child genuine praise after their dental appointment. Compliment their healthy, beautiful teeth and congratulate them on what a great job they’re doing to take care of their smile.

Give space.

Though you may feel an overpowering instinct to intervene, hover, or scold when your child is crying, fussing, or squirming at their dental visit, you and your child can benefit when your child’s pediatric dental team takes the lead. Your child’s pediatric dentist is highly skilled at working with nervous or resistant kids and teens, and can use positive behavior support techniques to help redirect and improve your child’s experience.

Tips for Infants and Toddlers

Introduce the dentist early.

For their immediate and long-term oral health and overall wellbeing, the American Association of Pediatric Dentists recommends that children have their first dental visit within six months of cutting their first tooth, or no later than their first birthday. Alongside protecting their baby teeth and setting the stage for a lifetime of healthy habits, introducing your child to the dentist early can help make a visit to the dentist’s office feel normal and safe.

Play dentist during make-believe play.

Make-believe play helps your child process the world around them. You can add some fun to your child’s dental experience by playing dentist with your child and their favorite toys. For instance, with you as the dentist and your child as the patient, you can go through all the details of a dental visit. Play in the waiting room, use a napkin for a bib, and practice “opening wide” for the dentist to count and clean teeth until they’re happy and shiny. 

Bring a comfort item to the appointment.

A little piece of home, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, can help soothe feelings of stress or anxiety during your child’s dental visit. A comfort item of your child’s choice can provide a useful distraction, and help your child feel like they’re in a safe place with good company.

Tips for Preschool and School-Aged Kids

Add a book about the dentist to storytime.

Reading with your child offers multiple benefits, from language development to social competence. Like make-believe play, reading nurtures your child’s imagination, supports their development, and helps them process the details of life and the world around them.

As fun as they are informative, here are several fantastic books you can read to your child to help form your child’s experience and expectations of a dental visit: 

  • Dentist (First Time) by Jess Stockham
  • Curious George Visits the Dentist by H.A. Rey
  • Just Going to the Dentist by Mercer Mayer
  • Open Wide: Tooth School Inside by Laurie Keller
  • Maisy, Charley, and the Wobbly Tooth by Lucy Cousins

Switch to a pediatric dentist’s office.

With more exposure to different environments, kids can sense when a place is kid-friendly. Alongside providing your child with age-appropriate and specialized care, a pediatric dentist’s office will be stocked with toys, books, and video games in an environment that’s designed to appeal to children.

Indulge their need for independence.

Has your child been seeking opportunities to be treated more like a big kid? Give them a taste of independence by going into the exam room with them, then stepping out into the waiting room for the duration of their appointment. The dentist’s office is a safe space to let your child fly solo, giving your child the opportunity to build self-confidence and foster a better relationship with their pediatric dental team.

Tips for Teens

Appeal to appearance.

If your teen is resistant or apathetic about going to the dentist, appeal to the adolescent tendency to be concerned about keeping up appearances and avoiding pain. Explain how visiting the dentist can help them keep their teeth from staining and yellowing, in addition to preventing them from needing more extensive procedures, like root canals and fillings, to treat tooth decay and gum disease.

Introduce relaxation techniques.

If your teen is experiencing anxiety around their dental visits, you can soothe their nervousness and stress by talking with them about their feelings and teaching them relaxation techniques, such as slow, deep breathing or body scanning. You can also help reduce your teen’s stress by scheduling their appointment away from exams and school events, and ensuring they’re tending to their most basic needs, like staying hydrated, eating well, and getting enough sleep.

Whether you’re the parent or guardian of an infant, grade-schooler, or teen, Pediatric and Adolescent Dentistry of Brocks Gap Dental Group is here to help provide your child with an uplifting dental experience. To get answers to your questions or to schedule your child’s next appointment, contact our office today.