5 Tips for Your Child’s First Trip to the Dentist

mom and baby brushing teeth

Baby teeth are an exciting milestone – but they come with added responsibility. To keep your child’s teeth healthy and gleaming white, you not only need to brush them (which is a challenge, to say the least, in babies and young toddlers) but also start thinking about taking your little one to the dentist for a checkup.

But your cutie pie’s first trip to the dentist doesn’t have to be the terrifying, traumatic experience you imagine. It could actually be fun if you follow a few basic tips on how to do it right.

1. Know when to go. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a baby see the dentist for the first time when she gets her first tooth or turns a year old, whichever comes first. But some pediatricians (including two of my own), moms, and others in the know say a better age for a child’s dentist debut is 2-3 years old. That’s because she’s less likely to get scared and can be prepared for the experience — plus, she’ll be able to understand what’s going on and do what the dentist tells her. Studies have shown that in terms of dental health, there is no difference between children who visit the dentist before 18 months and older kids who go between 1 1/2 and 3 1/2. Talk to your doctor to see what’s right for your family.

2. Choose a pediatric dentist. The tendency among parents is to take their child to their own dentist. While that sounds okay in theory and could turn out fine, it might be better to ask for a referral to a dentist specializing in children. Pediatric dentists have two extra years of school, where they study the particulars of dental care in children and child behavior. They’re pros at working with kids and making them feel comfortable and relaxed. Taking your toddler to one will make the entire experience go much more smoothly. And because the offices are designed with kids in mind — complete with games, prizes, goodie bags and sometimes even movies — it might even be better than a playdate!

3. Let your child go with you or a sibling ahead of time. By letting your son or daughter witness what happens at the dentist without being in the hot seat and see that Mommy, Daddy, Brother or Sister does just fine, you might be able to cut back on some of the anxiety, fear and mystery surrounding the first visit.

4. Practice going to the dentist before you actually do. It’s a good idea to role-play at home and pretend you’re at the dentist so your toddler knows what to expect. Tell him what the dentist will do. Look in his mouth with a flashlight and have him do the same to you. Have him “open wide” and practice brushing his teeth. All that is good prep for what’s to come.

5. Bring your child’s favorite stuffed animal or doll along for the trip. Whether you just do it to put her at ease or you ask the dentist to check the doll’s teeth along with your child’s, it will be comforting to have a favorite friend from home with her in the dentist chair. And that will translate into a much calmer little patient!

Have you taken your child to the dentist for the first time? Any more tips to add?