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Dental Despair: How to Get Your Kids to Enjoy Going to the Dentist

I remember going to the dentist as a kid, which usually involved quite a bit of stress and terror, both at having someone’s hands and sharp cleaning tools in my mouth and at the boredom of sitting in the dentist’s office for so long. For many children, visiting the dentist is usually dreaded. Some children will even go as far as throwing tantrums to avoid a trip to the dentist. But as parents, we know that annual dentist visits are necessary for keeping healthy teeth. So how can we, as parents, change a child’s attitude so that he or she will look forward to going to the dentist? Here are some ways to get your kids to enjoy going to the dentist.

Begin at a Young Age

If a child visits the dentist’s office at a young age, that child is more likely to feel familiar with the experience. The more familiarity, the better. Children should feel comfortable with visiting the office; they should know what to expect and how to expect it. Many dentist’s offices have small areas with books and games for children. Letting your child get used to the visit early and associate it with certain games and toys helps a lot—as a child, I had a favorite picture book that was only at the dentist’s office, so I enjoyed going just so I could look at it.

Prepare Your Child

Be sure to explain what will happen on a trip to the dentist. Explain why clean, healthy teeth are necessary. Also, adopt a positive attitude about visiting the dentist. Your kid will notice if you don’t want to visit the dentist yourself. When prepping your child for a dentist office trip, make it seem like a fun trip to look forward to. Talk to them about the visit the night before and have them pick out their favorite outfits to wear. This makes them excited about the visit, as if they were going to some fun event!

If for any reason you have to go to the dentist suddenly, such as for an emergency dentist appointment, it helps to already have a routine in place for leaving the house suddenly, like grabbing shoes and a favorite book or toy. In this case, you can prepare your child by reminding them of previous (hopefully fun!) visits and having them prepare some fun questions or things to tell the dentist when they get there.

Remind Your Child of the Benefits

Talk to your children about what a dentist will do for them. Of course, they may not understand the full importance of healthy teeth, but there are ways to help them understand in their own way. Specifically, mention that dentists can do the following:

Clean and whiten teeth (If your kids are old enough, they may have already started to care about their appearances)

Prevent bad breath (talk about how gross it is when someone has bad breath. Ew!)

Prevent toothache (If your kids have experienced this, you can remind them of how dentists can help them feel better)

Avoid tooth loss (Remind them that, other than their baby teeth, they want to keep the rest in their mouth!)

Create a beautiful smile (Have your kids practice smiling with you in front of the mirror, and point out what makes each other’s smiles beautiful!)

Allow Toys on the Trip

Encourage your kid to bring along a stuffed animal or a toy that he or she enjoys. A toy can bring comfort and familiarity. If the dentist’s office already has a play area or toys for kids, then perhaps limit what your child brings and make sure the toy isn’t lost or forgotten about during the dentist appointment. You could also prepare a small backpack of coloring supplies and books for your kids to grab.

Encourage Good Oral Hygiene

At some point, the dentist will likely encourage your kid to brush his or her teeth, floss, and maybe use mouth wash. As a parent, make sure to back up this advice. Turn teeth brushing into a daily habit for your child, perhaps by making it into a game or contest. Let your kid color in squares on a list for every night they brush and floss properly and praise them for their good habits.

Promise a Reward

Offer a reward for good behavior during the dentist visit. Take your kid to a movie, a park, or a playground afterward so that he or she has something to look forward to. Obviously you don’t want your kids to only behave if a reward is offered, but if they can start associating the dentist’s office with a fun day out, they will be more likely to enjoy and even look forward to it!

Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most of her time hiking, biking, and gardening. For more information, contact Brooke via Facebook at facebook.com/brooke.chaplan or Twitter @BrookeChaplan

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl is the editor of IFCS blog. He is a married father of three and enjoys golf in his spare time.
Tim Esterdahl

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