If you have a toddler on your hands who has not yet seen the dentist, he may be long overdue for his first visit. The American Dental Association encourages parents to establish a relationship with a pediatric dentist as early as when the first tooth appears, since that first visit gets kids going on good dental habits early. Yet like most parents, you may be pondering how to prep a first-time patient for an hour of sitting still while a stranger in a lab coat pokes around in his mouth.
Enthusiasm is key. Talking about an oncoming dental visit in a positive tone will instill excitement about a new experience, rather than fear about a painful one. Although playing hooky should not be encouraged, a morning off a light school day specifically to see the dentist is a great trade off for many kids.
Monetary bribes and material rewards are typically a slippery slope and should be avoided, but a little special treatment after the experience encourages cooperation. A stroll in the park after the visit, or an afternoon at the movies will give him something to look forward to.
Parents can also nip anxiety in the bud by staying positive when talking about their own dental office experiences in front of children, and making the first visit more about learning. Kids will have questions and these can be addressed openly and honestly so they can create a schema of expectations, or a mental outline of how the visit will go. Books, videos, cartoons, and coloring books about dentist visits also do a great job of allowing kids to identify with a favorite character going through a similar experience.