Preparing Your Child for Their First Trip to the Dentist
I recently took Little Bee to the dentist for the first time. It had been one of those things I just never had the time for when we were busy running the daycare and I felt awful for not having gone sooner. She is already 2.5 and it is recommended by the Canadian Dental Association that children go within six months of their first tooth popping through. Oops… But we really didn’t have any concerns about her oral health and we have a dentist in the family who had taken a look a few times over the last 2 years. She’s been so great to brush and floss each day since we had made that a part of her routine (read more about the importance of routine here) so early on in her life.
But it was time to take her before fears and messaging from others led her to believe it was a negative experience, when it most certainly doesn’t need to be. We’ve read so many wonderful books that focus on tooth care and dentists that she was gaining interest on her own and I wanted to run with it. I also knew that the dentist office was not an environment like any other she had seen before and she is very sensitive to noise, which there can be a lot of at the dentist. But it needed to be done.
In this post I’ll be sharing:
- 20 Tips for Preparing Your Child for Their First Trip to the Dentist
- The Best Books for Introducing the Dentist to Your Child
- What You Can Expect From Your First Visit to the Dentist – Our Experience
- Fun (and Educational) Activities You Can Do with Your Kids at Home to Learn about the Dentist and Tooth Care (with freebies to download!)
- Amazing Videos and Songs to Support You in Preparing for Your Child’s First Dentist Trip
- Songs to Print Off and Sing with Your Kids to Make Tooth Brushing a Little Bit More Fun (free download)!
Preparing for the First Trip to the Dentist with Your Child
20 Tips for Preparing Your Child for their First Trip to the Dentist
- Make oral care a regular part of your routine (more on the importance of routines here). Brushing and flossing every day is a great chance to talk about our teeth: why they are important and why we need to take care of them. Brush your child’s teeth to ensure they are cleaned correctly and then let them follow up on their own (post about buildling independence and responsibility here) while you watch and support. Do this until they get the hang of it and check in often to make sure it is being done correctly.
- Let them see you taking great care of your own teeth! Tell them why you brush when you do, what it looks like to see you flossing and how it’s a part of your everyday as well.
- Read about the dentist and taking care of our teeth (recommendations below). Including the tooth fairy (optional to your house and beliefs on these things) was an aspect that peaked my daughter’s interest. Why would a fairy want me to brush my teeth?! It was a fun reason to dive into more books!
- Watch videos about what they will see when they go to the dentist (provided for you below) so your child can see and hear what they will encounter: chair, equipment, noises.
- Some people recommend having your child join you for an appointment of your own but I didn’t opt to do this. My daughter is a social butterfly and I knew she would be in the office’s lunch room chatting it up with anyone she could as soon as I was under the lamp and mid way through a cleaning. It just wasn’t going to work for us. If I had been able to bring someone along to have her see the beginning of my visit, I might have done this but I knew my office was willing to offer a meet and greet that was all about her.
- Remind your child about what they will see and hear at the dentist before their appointment, keeping it positive, light and simple and in line with their development and age.
- Stay positive about the whole experience. From every tooth brushing, story read and appointment made. I know that lots of people have stories that would give you goosebumps about the dentist but it really doesn’t need to be that way if you find the right care. Be a positive role model for a great experience.
- Go to the dentist early on in your child’s development (this is one of those “do as I recommend, not as I do” points… *mom guilt cringe*)
- Choose a dentist office that works well with children or specializes in children. Ask your friends where they go, reach out to local Facebook groups for recommendations, check a few out online and make calls. Don’t hesitate to go in ahead of time and check it out if you haven’t been there before.
- Play dentist at home! Let you child check your teeth, print off the freebies I’ve included in this post and set up a dentist office in your living room or playroom. After watching a few videos, let your child take the lead on what they want to act out (more on that here) and listen for hesitation or questions in their play. Be there to answer questions through playing along. Check everyone’s teeth in the family (with their consent) and favorite stuffed animals who may be due for a check up.
- Let your dentist know ahead of time of any concerns or habits that may impact healthy oral development like thumb sucking or going to bed with milk or juice. That way they can be prepared with excellent information for you and not have to discuss it in front of your child if you preferred they didn’t.
- Talk with your dental office about what they do during a first visit as each office offers something different. I’ll go through what happened at ours further on in the post. But knowing ahead of time prevents a surprised Mama face for your child, and allows you time to reassure and prepare both your child and yourself.
- Use fun toothbrushes (like this awesome light up timer brush that’s super reasonably priced) that are appropriate for children but make tooth brushing time engaging.
- Use floss that takes the intimidation of having a giant set of adult hands in their mouth like these amazing flossers that we use.
- Find out if your local water source adds fluoride to the water. Many communities do but lots do not. It’s extra important to use flouride early on especially if you don’t have flouride in your water (more on that here from the Canadian Dental Association).
- Use a toothpaste with fluoride, (in the smallest amount you can get on the brush – smaller than a pea – see previous point) especially if your child doesn’t spit it out) keeping in mind a little goes a long way. These kits are awesome for stocking up on toothbrushes and paste with characters your kids love.
- Avoid starchy and sugary foods as they can cause issues with decay. I know right, your child lives on pasta and crackers like mine, but here’s a post and activity that will help with that.
- Prepare yourself for non-standard behavior from your child and just roll with it. Part of the preparation really is within yourself and being relaxed. There is a lot going on in a dental office and it’s not unreasonable for your child to be uncomfortable (and they always have an exciting way to show you that emotion, don’t they?). You don’t need to accomplish anything in particular at this appointment. The goal is a warm introduction and not a series of successful tests. It’s all about your child and letting them come to understand what happens at the dentist. If you need to leave early, that’s fine. Anything the office needs to know they can collect over the phone after if your time is cut short.
- Bring along a favorite stuffed animal or comfort item and let your child know that you will also be there every step of the way.
- Have fun with it, take pictures and enjoy yet another incredible milestone. Our children grow to fast and this is a big step in setting them up for lifelong success. Pat yourself on the back for being an amazing mom!
Is Your Child Heading to Kindergarten soon?!
Looking over at that amazing child of yours, thinking of slipping the straps of a backpack far too big for their still tiny shoulders as you send them off to kindergarten for the first time, armed with the perfectly packed lunch and all the love in your heart; what a milestone!
Well, Mama. I can help you prepare for this amazing adventure.
In a FREE email course, I walk you through
the 5 MOST IMPORTANT steps to preparing your child for kindergarten.
Introducing the Dentist to Your Child Through Books
These are the best books we have in our home library about the dentist and they are in high rotation.
What to expect on the first trip to the dentist with your toddler or preschooler
Our experience was really wonderful. After spending lots of time talking about teeth and taking care of our teeth each day, I knew Little Bee was eager to see what it was all about and the meet and greet my dental office offered was perfect for this!
Going to the Dentist for the First Time
We decided to go early enough that I could fill out the required paperwork for a first visit (which just ensures that there are no health problems or concerns) and to let Little Bee take a peek around. But I knew not to go so early that she would be having a difficult time waiting for her turn for something she was now excited about.
Choosing the Right Care for a First Dentist Visit
Although it is often recommended to go to a paediatric dentist, I opted to go to my normal dentist and dental hygienist as I knew them well and felt they would work wonderfully with my daughter. This was my choice and I have heard from many friends that they were pleased to go to a special dentist geared toward children. I think this is a preference thing. I knew my daughter would be more than fine at my office (and my office more than fine with her) so I didn’t want to have to switch her care after she outgrew the children’s dentist.
Warmly met in the waiting room by our fantastic dental hygienist, Pierre, we were led into the well known version of a dental office: the chair, light, equipment and sounds. Little Bee can be sensitive to noise and this was the only area I thought would be a problem. But, after telling her that the noises around her were suctions like the vacuum we had at home and clicking drawers and tools being used to help people, she seemed to be happy with the explanation and moved onto wondering about the chair and why it was so big.
What happens at a child’s first dentist visit
This visit was all about an introduction and when I had called to book the appointment the receptionist reminded me of the expectation that it would be quick, simplified and talk through all the normal activities of a dental checkup; perfect for us.
Pierre showed Little Bee how the chair moved up and down, some of the commonly used tools (mirror, water, suction, polisher) and let her investigate them as she wished. He gave her a glove to hold onto and to keep her hands busy, took images of her teeth with a tiny camera and showed her the pictures on the screen. He was clear to explain exactly what he was going to do before he did it and watched for signs of hesitation from my daughter. I really can’t say enough about his approach with children and the care he took to make sure she was comfortable, asking the millions of questions she had for him. Thank you, Pierre!
After going through the basics with her, he gave her teeth a quick check and talked with me about our oral care routines at home. To include her in the conversation, he brought out a giant set of teeth for her to brush with an equally oversized toothbrush – the highlight of the trip! He used the opportunity to talk to her about healthy brushing habits and the importance of flossing. He offered to polish her teeth, which she welcomed for a few pearly whites but lost interest in that pretty quickly. That was more than okay because we had already achieved what I had hoped for in a pleasant and positive first visit.
An Easy First Experience (for both of us) at the Dentist
After all was said and done, Pierre let Little Bee pick a toy from a box and a new toothbrush of her choosing (along with some other loot which she wasn’t as excited about; floss and toothpaste made for kiddos! Momma Bee on the other hand was pumped for the free stuff!), we were led back out the way we came with high fives and smiles from everyone we encountered. I paid the bill, booked the next appointment in 6 months time and we were done!
It was quick and easy; a relief for me and an adventure for her, and a reminder of why I love my dental office so much.
Activities You Can Do at Home with Your Child to Talk About the Dentist and Taking Care of Their Teeth
Learning through play is a huge passion of mine (more about the benefits here), so creating opportunities to talk with Little Bee while we play goes a long way in preparing her for big events in her life, like going to the dentist for the first time and taking on the care of her teeth as she gets older. Talking about why it’s important to brush our teeth might not be the most enthralling discussion for a 2.5 year old, but paired with a fun activity, it can easily become a story all on it’s own.
Great ideas for learning through play about tooth care
Cleaning Teeth (using a toothbrush)
Using the freebies provided, which you can download now by clicking the purple and teal buttons below, you can print off a great big tooth to be laminated (or not, your preference). If you are going to laminate the tooth, you will be able to do this activity again and again by having your little one (or you) draw or write (depending on age) all the foods that can stain or damage our teeth with a whiteboard marker. Then with a toothbrush (that you are no longer using for brushing teeth) you can wipe away the words, pictures and marks that had been made on the tooth!
If you decide not to laminate, or print additional copies on paper alone, you can use your toothbrush and floss to paint your tooth (finger paint recipe here) with fun designs, getting your child comfortable manipulating the brush and floss, getting to know them and allowing for conversations to happen naturally around tooth care.
Printing off the bits and pieces that you may find at the dentist office in the freebie provided, you can turn your living room or playroom into a dentist’s office! Let your child watch the videos provided below and give them the printed (and laminated for lasting play) aspects of a dental office. You can tell them the name of each and model how to use them on a teddy or sibling (match the word and object with older children for an additional literacy activity). Let your child take charge of the play if they are interested or simply leave the printables out and watch the play unfold when you least expect it! When inviting play like this, it’s best to keep your eyes and ears available to hear any hesitation, questions or concern you child plays out and take the opportunity to jump into the game and reassure your little one through positive reminders and support about the dentist and dental hygienist. Your voice, body language and comfort with “playing dentist” will go a long way to set your little ones at ease for their own experience.
Songs about our teeth make brushing more fun!
I discovered these amazing songs from Family First Dental’s website and thought they were too good not to share so I created my own printables of their songs (with a few changes to make it our own)! How cute are these?! Feel free to download your copy and sing along with your kids when it’s tooth brushing time!
The Best Videos That Introduce Your Child to the Dentist and Tooth Care
Awesome stories and songs about going to the dentist and taking care of teeth to watch with your children
After having this first visit under our belt, Little Bee and I plan to go twice a year to the dentist until they recommend otherwise. Keeping the care of her teeth top of mind we will continue to implement the routine of brushing and flossing at least twice a day (more if a sugary or sticky meal has been enjoyed because let’s get real, it happens). But key to all of this really is the nutrition we provide our children, critical to their physical, mental, psychological, and oral development. Choosing foods and drinks that partner with healthy tooth development and maintenance continues to be important in her overall development, and mine too. That part is hard to remember when you have a soft spot for cupcakes like I do…
I would love to hear about your first experiences at the dentist with your little ones or what you have on your mind as you think about taking your child for the first time.
Purposefully made with calming colors to prevent distraction and provide a focused space for learning through play with a parent or teacher,
The Love of Learning Binder can be used in a homeschool setting, preschool, or as a daily part of a momma life with little ones at home and makes a wonderful quiet time activity so you can get to business on your own goals.
Here for you, Momma!
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