Will my toddler be afraid or reluctant to go to the dentist?

Body Inside & Out   |   Age: 1 year 1 month

Will my toddler be afraid or reluctant to go to the dentist?

Before your child's first visit to the dentist, all she knows about the art of teeth-cleaning is what you've told her. She doesn't have a reason to think a trip to the dentist is anything other than a blast, and you probably want to do what you can to keep it that way. 

It's recommended that children have a dentist's appointment before their first birthday, so it's possible that you've already introduced your baby to the dentist. If it didn't go perfectly, don't worry. Although it is your baby's first encounter, it won't be a lasting memory. It's not going to scar her for life or make her love or hate the dentist forever; it's more of a building block for immediate future visits.

Is my child going to hate the dentist?

Get ready for what might be the most annoying answer to any parenting question: it depends! Some children love going to the dentist. They think the toys that are usually in the waiting area are really cool, they like the paper bibs they get, and they consider the toothbrush and tiny toothpaste they get at the end to be really cool little treasures. It's also easier to love the dentist when you don't have to undergo any harsh scraping or lectures about flossing, so children who enjoy going to the dentist are often the children with the best dental care habits. (Having a parent with a dentist-positive attitude doesn't hurt either.)

When children don't like the dentist, it can be for a number of reasons. Medical-looking things might freak them out, which is a valid reaction. The instruments dentists use to clean teeth can look scary, and being in an unfamiliar setting with bright lights and masks can be overwhelming. A child might also dislike the feeling of someone poking around in their mouth or using a weird flavor of toothpaste. At the end of the day, it's unlikely that your baby would have an unreasonable dislike of the dentist, but there are things you can do to make her experience the best it can be.

How do I make the dentist more fun?

The first trick is that your baby's first several visits probably won't be the dentist's visits that you're used to having. Instead, they'll be set up to help your little one to get acquainted with the dentist, experience being in the office, and learn that she (probably) gets a cool gift from a prize box at the end of a visit. It's also helpful for the dentist because they get to have your child on file in case of a dental emergency, and gives them the background if your family has a history of dental issues like weak enamel. You will also benefit from these visits - the dentist can help walk you through the best strategies for brushing teeth and keeping your baby's dental hygiene in tip-top shape.

What you can do is help create positive energy in your home surrounding the dentist and dental appointments. Express some excitement when you go to the dentist for your appointments, and make sure your baby knows that you brush your teeth just like she does! Make sure that your baby's teeth are brushed at least once a day (nighttime is best if you're picking one time of day) to help prevent cavities, and therefore help prevent unpleasant dental procedures. Let your baby know that you're so proud that she is a big kid old enough to go to the dentist.

You can also try to create some exciting post-dentist activity that your baby knows she can look forward to after every appointment. Maybe you play a special song on the way home, take a trip to the park, or eat a special (non-sugary, you just went to the dentist!) snack. The dentist is just one stop in a special bonding session with you and your baby!

And again, if the first (or first several) appointments don't go well, try not to force it. Your dentist or pediatrician should be able to do a general check of your baby's teeth without being too invasive, and you can try to come back for an appointment another time if your baby is too freaked out. The most important thing is that you're easing your baby into the world of dentist appointments and that you're up to date on her oral health. And, of course, that you're stocking up on cool prizes from the prize box.


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