How to help your child enjoy the dentist

Welcome to Tooth Fairy Tokens! You can ask Amy any questions you have about children and dental hygiene or dentists in general. She will also publish helpful posts here as well, so keep checking back!

Growing up, my dentist would often tell me , “You only have to floss those teeth that you want to keep!!” And that’s one of the reasons I loved him!

I remember before I turned eight when my mom brought my brother and I to the dentist for the first time. It was a love-hate relationship.

The dentist was clever and funny, but unfortunately, I had nine cavities. One tooth needed pulled because the decay was so great, and the other eight needed to be filled. And they had to schedule them on my eighth (and golden) birthday.

This is something that now, being a Dental Hygienist, I am advocating to prevent from happening. It’s very important to get your kids into the dentist before things go too terribly wrong – and work from a preventative side.

Take them to your appointment first

It’s not the most fun thing in the world to bring your toddler with you to the dentist. The weird people in masks, noisy tools, and other scary stuff can really freak a kid out. But I highly suggest you take your child with you to watch your visit with your dentist before taking them to their own.

You will have to call ahead (even 10 minutes ahead) and let them know you’re bringing your child with you to watch the appointment, and their age. These extra few minutes can help the dental team prepare the room for a child – getting out a little chair, hiding sharp instruments under napkins and getting the toys and toothbrushes out for the children to choose from. Also if there is enough staff, an extra team member can be prepared to entertain your child if they start getting out of hand.

Choose a hygienist that speaks on their level

A good dentist and hygienist are going to engage the child in conversation, try to make them comfortable- and explain the process (at least some parts of it) to the child – in a more child friendly manner. If you bring your child – and they are ignored through the whole appointment and don’t manage to make your child comfortable – it’s time to find a new dentist.

I often use fun words to describe the process. The explorer (that stick they poke around your teeth to check for cavities) becomes the ‘tooth counter’, and we count the teeth and look for “sugar bugs”.

It’s probably best to leave the cleaning instruments out of the discussion as much, and pray and hope you’ve done a good job flossing lately so you don’t bleed too much during the cleaning. This would be a good time for your child to focus on the books and puzzles and toys that either you brought with you or are at the dentists office. Often we do not use these instruments on children until they are much older, and it’s an unnecessary fear.

The polisher becomes the electric toothbrush, aka ‘tooth tickler’ with some yummy favored ‘tooth polish’ to “shine” the teeth; and the suction stick becomes ‘Mr. Thirsty’, or a ‘straw’ and we teach the kids how they give Mr. Thirsty a ‘Kiss’ and he drinks the water in your mouth! (Which gets to be quite the game!)

At the end of the appointment, you should make a point to have a “Ride” in the chair. The hygienist should show them how the chair moves through the appointment and that it’s fun! Laying back might be scary, so taking cues from the child and their attitude is important.

Surprises and rewards

Then picking out a few stickers, a toy, and a toothbrush should make the appointment rewarding and give them a great memory!

It’s always good to have your own surprises for the child for after the dental appointment, but do your best to make them a true surprise. If you are bribing them to do something they’re not ready to do just yet just to have a treat – it might leave a bad experience in their mind.

Some children may not be ready to have their ‘teeth tickled’ until they are 3 or 4 years old. This is perfectly fine – although they should still have exams, even if they’re sitting on mom’s lap during them. The hygienist will advise you on the use of fluoride (‘tooth vitamins’) and other products at home, and should go over tooth brushing habits and techniques with mom – and continue trying to have the child ride in the chair or get their teeth counted, and showing them the tooth tickler and Mr. Thirsty.

What not to do

If you happen to have a great fear of the dentist yourself, PLEASE please don’t tell your child how you hate the dentist and how the dentist hurts you. Your particular attitude towards the dentist will have a huge impact on how they view the dentist. Put on a good face for your kids, and help them to not be afraid.

Keep it positive

The best part of my first childhood dental experiences was that my dentist had a toy bin and I always got to choose a toy and stickers for myself to take home. It’s those things that I remembered that made the experience a positive one, and had helped me learn the importance of caring for my teeth – and ultimately lead me closer to the dental field for my career.

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