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How to Make Trips to the Dentist as Smooth as Possible

It’s normal for both caregivers and children to experience some anxiety when it comes to dental visits. But there are some ways to prepare in advance for the dentist trip to make it as stress-free as possible.

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Experts recommend children start going to the dentist by their first birthday or within six months after their first tooth erupts—whichever comes first. This early visit allows the dentist to examine the child's mouth, provide guidance on oral hygiene practices, and address any concerns or potential issues. 

Regular dental checkups every six months are recommended to ensure proper dental development, maintain oral health, and establish a positive dental care routine from an early age. Medi-Cal, California's health insurance program for qualifying families, provides essential medical coverage to millions of residents, including dental visits. Learn more in this video.

Introducing children to dental visits at a young age can help make them more comfortable and familiar with the dentist’s office, reducing anxiety in the long run. By making these experiences routine from a young age, children are more likely to develop a sense of comfort and familiarity with the dentist, reducing anxiety and promoting a lifetime of good oral health habits. 

In addition to establishing early familiarity with dental visits, there are some more strategies you can try to make trips as smooth as possible:

  • Look for a pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentists have additional training and experience in handling young patients and creating a child-friendly atmosphere. They might have children’s shows playing in the office or have a toy chest that children can search through after the visit. Even these small touches can make the experience more enjoyable for children.

  • Role-play your dentist trip. Use pretend play at home to act out a dental visit. Let your child play the role of the dentist and examine their stuffed animals’ or dolls’ teeth. If you’re comfortable with it, you can have them look closely at your teeth! This can help reduce anxiety and familiarize them with what to expect.

  • Read fun books about dentist visits. Share children’s books about dental visits to help your child understand what happens during an appointment. These books can address common fears and misconceptions while presenting the dentist as a friendly helper. Some ideas of books to read include:

    • Potter the Otter Goes to the Dentist by First 5 Santa Clara

    • The Crocodile and the Dentist by Taro Gomi

    • Just Going to the Dentist (Little Critter) by Mercer Mayer

    • The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist by Stan and Jan Berenstain

    • Peppa Pig: Dentist Trip by Scholastic

  • Use positive language when talking about the dentist. It might be tempting to say things like, “Don’t be nervous; it’s not too bad.” But even introducing some level of doubt or fear can influence children’s feelings about dental trips. Do your best to talk about how the dentist helps keep teeth healthy and strong and that it’s an important part of taking care of their smile.

  • Play “open wide.” Practice asking your child to open their mouth wide so you can count their teeth. You can even make it a game! Ask them to guess how many teeth they have, and then count them to see how close they were. This can help them become comfortable with the idea of someone looking inside their mouth.

  • Offer distractions. When you go to the dentist, bring along your child’s favorite toy, book, or stuffed animal to provide comfort and distraction during the appointment. Some dental offices may also have toys or TVs in the waiting area to engage children.

  • Provide plenty of praise and rewards. Acknowledge your child’s bravery and good behavior during and after the dental visit. Offer small rewards, such as stickers or a special treat, to make the experience as positive as possible.

  • Teach your child good oral hygiene. Establish a regular dental hygiene routine at home with proper brushing. This will help prevent dental issues and contribute to a more positive experience at the dentist.

Every child is unique, and it may take time for them to feel comfortable with dental visits. Patience, understanding, and a gentle approach can go a long way in making trips to the dentist as smooth as possible for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

QUICK TIP: Just like with reading and any other positive behaviors, if your child sees you going to the dentist and taking care of your teeth, your child will too. Be a good role model for your child by taking care of yourself!

First 5 California
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First 5 California
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